Dragon Boating in Tampa was created through the ideas and dreams of a group of businessmen and women. This effort, led by Kevin Burns and Keith Greminger, officially started in the fall of 1999. As the U.S. was discovering dragon boat racing, it was still unknown to the Tampa Bay Area, where there are more boats per capita than any other community in the North America.
The effort was bolstered by the vision of Thom Stork, president of the Florida Aquarium, who viewed a race in Baltimore and fell in love with the community involvement and fundraising potential. Troy Manthey, president of the Downtown Tampa Attractions Association and owner of the Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, coordinated a group of sponsors (Verizon Communications as the main sponsor) making the inaugural event possible.
The Dragon Boat Institute has donated over $145,000 to its two beneficiaries in seven years. Each year the numbers continue to grow and the Festival now hosts over 70 teams at the event. In 2011 the Institute is projecting another successful year and hopes to raise $50,000 for FACTors and the Aquarium.
Each boat is 45 feet long, from head to tail. 20 paddlers sit side by side in 10 rows. In the stern, a steersperson stands on a platform and guides the boat through the water, and in the bow a drummer sits facing the crew, beating the drum to the stroke rate of the paddlers. Every team races three times throughout the day, with a chance to vie for champion of one of the seven divisions. The race course is 450 meters, and the teams race from east to west in a straight line.
What is most exciting is the growth of the sport at the grassroots level. Dragon Boat Racing is great fun for anyone, young or old. Although most international crews are either all male or female, national and regional events attract primarily mixed teams from corporations, public service groups, clubs sponsored by small businesses, high schools, colleges and universities. There are now over 70 communities hosting Dragon Boat Festivals in the U.S. alone, and over 60 million participants worldwide.