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North Pinellas dragon boat team gaining members

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Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 10:31 AM
DUNEDIN -

Enter the dragon.
The Pinellas Power Dragons, that is, into next month's dragon boat race near downtown Tampa.

The Pinellas Power Dragons, that is, into next month's dragon boat race near downtown Tampa.

If that doesn't explain things clearly enough, let's elaborate.

To create a mental image of a dragon boat team in action, think crew rowing but with a few more people in the boat and a little more flamboyance all around. If the large, fiercely designed and brightly painted dragon head at the vessel's bow doesn't quickly pronounce that flair, then the guy or gal beating on the drum probably will.

Similar to other forms of boating and paddling, dragon boat teams vary from the skilled and competitive to the novice and fun-loving. The newly formed Pinellas Power Dragons has the latter type of enthusiasts as it seeks paddlers of all ages to help build a local base.

The team's creator, Tarpon Springs resident Maritsa Skinitis, said she couldn't help but get involved after being swept up in the current of last year's Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Races, held on Garrison Channel, between the mainland and Harbour Island.

“I went to it last year and my jaw dropped when I saw the crowd,” Skinitis said. “I couldn't believe it. It's all about people coming together and that's what really interested me.”

The event in Tampa raises money for charity and attracts thousands of participants and spectators. Skinitis, who lives near the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, figured the best way to get involved would be to create a local team and go from there.

Skinitis partnered with the Harbour Island Dragon Boat Club to get the Pinellas team jump started and the membership is already at 28 and rising as of mid-March.

“It's really quite exciting,” Skinitis said of assembling the race team. “Dunedin was very proactive in helping us. The city went all out, the Chamber of Commerce went all out, the city's marketing official went all out; this was really amazing to watch.”

She hopes Tarpon Springs embraces the idea as well and will put on dragon boat races in Pinellas County in the not-too-distant future.

“I think it would be a great idea if either Tarpon or Dunedin held their own dragon boat race,” Skinitis said. “I have a feeling that once a dragon boat shows up on the Sponge Docks there will be more interest.”

To get their feet wet — both figuratively and literally — the Pinellas Power Dragons got together for their inaugural meeting on March 13. It was held at a Rocky Point hotel in Tampa during an event with other dragon boaters from all over North America.

As far as club capacity goes, Skinitis said there is no cap. When one boat gets filled up, they'll move on to manning up another. Pan American Dragon Boat Association oversees the team and also furnishes all the boats, paddles, drummers and trainers.

Initially joining the club is also free, Skinitis added, so those intrigued with the idea can feel free to try it out without feelings of obligation. Fees are charged later if members decide to participate in events such as the April 27 festival in Tampa. Questions about the Pinellas team or information on how to join can be attained by sending emails to info@panamdragonboat.com.

Just showing up to the next meeting or attending any dragon boat race in person will be enough to hook most, Skinitis believes, especially with how the Pinellas Power Dragons intend to row.

“We're going to 'Hawaii Five-O' it,” she said.

“When people see you having fun and not struggling — we're all novices out there and there's no age limit — it's pretty hard to say you can't do it, because you can.”

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