During the doldrums of the pandemic, the Central Coast Dragon Boating Association traded team practice for team fundraising.
Its regular morning rides on Morro Bay were put on hold indefinitely when COVID-19 struck, so the local nonprofit best known for its successful team of cancer-survivors, called the SurviveOars, shifted its focus instead to the future.
"We all missed it so much," association board member Sandy Mitchell told New Times. "But as it turned out, we really concentrated our energies on getting ready for when we could reopen. We put together brochures and we did fundraising for new boats, and we did everything we could to be ready to reopen again."
Thanks to all that hard work—and one extraordinary donation from a team member who passed away from cancer this March—the association raised enough money to purchase two new 40-foot dragon boats, which they are unveiling at a public "dragon awakening" ceremony on May 28 at 10 a.m. in Tidelands Park.
"It involves a ceremony where you paint the eyes of the dragon so you wake it up. It's supposed to bring them to life and imbue them with good spirits so you'll have luck as you travel and race on the dragon boats," Mitchell explained. "That's a tradition out of China—the roots of dragon boating."
Anyone from the community is invited to attend the ceremony, which will also feature a performance by the Cal Poly Lion Dance team and be followed by practice on the bay in the new boats.
Mitchell said that the event offers the public a great chance to learn more about the Central Coast Dragon Boating Association and dragon boating itself—an ancient Chinese sport where 20-plus boaters paddle in unison to the rhythm of one drummer.
"We think this event will be a good way to raise awareness and let people know that they can come and do this sport," Mitchell said. "I think because the organization started as a cancer survivor team, people still think of us that way.
"And we do have a cancer survivor team, and it's an important part of what we do," she continued. "But we're really trying to open up dragon boating to the entire community."
Residents interested in trying out dragon boating can pre-register for one of the association's regular practices on its website, ccdba.org, free of charge. After the first free practice, guest paddlers are asked to pay $10 for the next two rides.
The Central Coast Dragon Boating Association and its teams are internationally successful—having won gold medals at competitions from Long Beach to Hungary. But Mitchell emphasized that at its core the organization isn't about competing. Practices are open to paddlers of all ages, genders, strengths, and skill levels, and its mission is to promote health and community.
"The great thing about dragon boating is you are on a boat with 20 people and you are all doing the same thing at the same time. It's not like any other sport. It's really a feeling of unity and teamwork," Mitchell said.
The association's two new boats will replace the team's original boat, Joanna's Joy, which was named after a former SurviveOar member who'd donated the boat and passed away from cancer.
Similarly, one of the nonprofit's new boats will be called Rosana's Ride, a tribute to Rosana Ortiz, the late member who made a critical donation that helped the association buy a second new boat.
"We had [raised] enough for about 1.5 boats, but when you have two boats that are the same, it's a lot easier to practice racing," Mitchell said. "Ortiz was going through some serious cancer at the time and she said, 'How much more do you need?' We told her, and her and her family came up with the rest of the money."
Thanks to Ortiz, the association now has a revamped fleet, with plenty of capacity to introduce more members of the Central Coast community to dragon boating.
"It's open, and it's open to everyone," Mitchell said.
• Two new cannabis retail stores recently opened their doors in SLO County. SLOCal Roots, a locally owned shop, is SLO city's second cannabis dispensary, located at 3535 South Higuera St. Beyond / Hello, a national cannabis brand, has a new dispensary at 923 Huber St. in Grover Beach. It is the fourth and final cannabis storefront permitted in the city, according to Grover Beach officials. Δ
Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to email@example.com.