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Oriental Festival, in just third year, attracts top teams

1) Wednesday night, Crystal Schelmety, captain of the Miami Dragon Slayers, arrived with her parents Debbie and Harry. Having first begun to paddle a Dragon Boat at the age of 12, Crystal Schelmety is a well-known figure in the sport. She is president of the Southeastern U.S. Dragon Boat Association.

By Jeff Aydelette | Staff Writer

ORIENTAL –This town’s unusual name, an extensive boating heritage, a fondness for fabled dragons, and an incredible Neuse River vista make it the perfect setting for what promises to be a fun and incredibly competitive event, officially known as the Oriental Dragon Boat Festival.

Team practice sessions begin Friday afternoon about 2 p.m. and continue until sunset. Then, at 8 a.m. on Saturday, a parade and ‘dotting of the Dragon Eye’ ceremony will set the stage for six or more hours of continuous paddling competition.


2) The Raleigh Dragon Boat Club, seen here at a competition in Charlotte earlier this year, are returning champions. Two paddlers from the club have qualified for the U.S. Dragon Boat Team that will compete in the World Championships next month in Milan, Italy.

Spectators are welcome, and admission is free. Various vendors on site will provide plenty of food and drink. Activities for children have been scheduled for a location near Lou Mac Park – the Nautical Wheelers Kids Park.

Dragon Boat Racing, a sport that began more than 2,000 years ago in China, has been quickly embraced by this waterfront community.

“The first year we had nine teams, last year we had 14, and this year we are closing in on two dozen,” chuckled Flora Moorman, one of many local residents who have been involved with the planning.

Typical teams feature 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steer person. Synchronization of paddle strokes – far from easy – is the key to this fast-growing water sport.

Last year’s overall champion, the Raleigh Dragon Boat Club, returns to defend its title.
Should anyone doubt the talent of the Raleigh contingent, keep in mind that two of their best paddlers recently qualified for the U.S. Team that will attend the Dragon Boat World Championships later this year in Milan, Italy.

3) The local Oriental Dragon Boat Club now has access to a vessel that will allow almost year-round practice sessions. Seen here at the Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp in Oriental, the club expresses its gratitude to Clancy’s Marina where the Dragon Boat is stored.

A local team, Deaton Yacht Services, was the Festival’s 2010 champ, and again features one of the oldest participants in the nation – Fran Deaton, who claims to be 85 (or is it 86?) years young. The company matriarch serves as the team’s drummer – an important role as cadence helps paddlers stay in sync.

In a generous, much appreciated gesture, no less than five ‘Community Outreach Partners’ have paid entry fees for teams comprised entirely of active duty military:

Denton Pharmacy is the partner for Neuse River Dragons, a team of Coast Guard and Navy participants.

Marines from Camp Lejeune and from Cherry Point comprise four teams as follows:

CarolinaEast Medical Center is the partner for The Ironmen.

Yachtsman Canvas & Sail is the partner for Chesty Pullers.

Hurricane Jack’s Nautical Consignment Store is the partner for Spartan Long Paddles.

And, Republican Party candidates Norman Sanderson and Michael Speciale have joined forces to partner with The Immortals.

Local residents have also committed to 40 individual partnerships, which has yielded a host of ‘embedded’ Marines who will fill in for teams with open spots on their rosters – a prospect that adds both intrigue and excitement to the Festival.

Yet another force to be reckoned with is the Miami Dragon Slayers, comprised to a large extent by sworn law enforcement officers from the SWAT Division of the Miami, Fla. Police Department.

A new wrinkle this year, sponsored by Sylvan and Lynn Friedman of Croakertown Gift, Florist, and Wine Shop, are “$3 Dragon Dollar Bills” to be given to each member of the military. The following USO-Friendly businesses have agreed to accept the currency as payment for any purchases:

Bean Coffee Shoppe
Brantley’s Restaurant
Croakertown Gifts
Denton’s Pharmacy
Downeast Canvas & Gallery
Inland Waterway Provision Co.
M&M’s Restaurant
Marine Consignment
Marsha’s Cottage
Nautical Wheelers
Oriental Mini Mart
Oriental Harbor Marina General Store
Pigeon Holes
Silo’s Italian Resturant and General Store
Steamer’s Game Room and Bar
Screen Door
Tiki Bar/Tucan Grill
Village Gallery
Village Food Emporium
Village Hardware
Yesteryears Antiques
Trawl Door

Last minute registration for individual paddlers is a possibility. Volunteers are also needed. Call (252) 675-9424 or e-mail info@orientaldragonboat.com. To see video and photos from previous festivals, visit www.orientaldragonboat.com.


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