BRADENTON -- Paddlers were enjoying the water, the sun and good times Saturday as they raced to the finish line on Manatee River in the latest dragon boat races to come to Bradenton.
Saturday's races, held outside Tarpon Pointe Grill, were the second of three in the Gulf Coast Mini
Dragon Boat Series.
Among the teams competing was the newly formed Paddlers from Paradise, based out of Anna Maria Island with paddlers from all over Manatee County.
"All these ladies had never seen a dragon boat before," Melinda Bradway said.
Bradway, who fell in love with the sport in Connecticut several years ago, acts as the team's coach and steer person,
Anna Maria Island, she realized, was a much better location for the team.
"We are trying to get some corporate sponsors so we can buy a boat," Bradway said. "When we come back next year, we won't be last."
The team, affiliated with the Anna Maria Island Community Center, consists of about 20 ladies, with an average of 15 at each practice.
"Not that we don't want men to join the team, but it empowers women," Bradway said. "It's the fastest-growing water sport in Florida."
Lauri Fern, a local soon-to-be published author, also loved the first experience.
"I sit in the front so I set the pace," Fern said. It also gets us outside."
Saturday's event was put on by High Five Dragon Boat, based in Tampa. Participants paddled in mini-boats and competed along a 350-meter race course along the Manatee River.
The race series was created for paddlers to have opportunities to compete year-round, including the sport's offseason.
Owner Joe Sinkovic was happy with the event's turnout.
"It's been a great time," Sinkovic said. "The sport is growing."
Bradenton was a great choice to host the event, he said, because of local conditions that really lend to canoeing.
Spectators were enjoying the day's races just as much as the paddlers.
Asif Mahmum wasn't expecting to watch a dragon boat race when he came out to Tarpon Pointe on Saturday.
"We were just coming out," Mahmum said. "I actually thought it was a kid thing, but it was awesome."
Mahmum said he was having an awesome time alongside buddy Lou Zone. Neither men had ever seen a dragon boat race before.
"Everybody is having a fun time on and off the water," Zone said. "I'd like to come to more of them."
Zone said he had only heard about dragon boat racing from a neighbor in his community, and after watching he loved it.
"I have a $50 seat here," Zone said. "There's more fun going on here, than on the water."
The Bradenton Dragon Boat Festival was held in March on the Manatee River. In October, Manatee-Sarasota will host an international dragon boat festival for breast cancer survivors at Nathan Benderson Park.
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.