Locals Make Team USA in Dragon Boat Racing

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

August 11, 2023

Four area athletes will compete at the 16th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships: Belin Tanner, Rose Marie Battaglia, Becky Adams, Dave DeGroot. Photo submitted

Boats will glide across the water, paddlers working in unison to the rhythm of a drum pounding out one beat, one boat at the 16th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships August 7-13, 2023, in Pattaya, Thailand. Some of the rowers decked out in red, white and blue are from San Luis Obispo County.

Four local dragon boat paddlers were selected to compete on Team USA at the World Championships, the highest level of competition in the sport. National teams are made up of top individual paddlers from across each participating nation. Rose Marie Battaglia (Morro Bay) and Becky Adams (Cayucos) were selected for the Senior C Women’s team; Dave DeGroot (Grover Beach) will compete with the Senior C Open team; and Belin Tanner (San Luis Obispo) was selected for both the Senior B Women’s and Senior B Mixed teams. 

“This is my first time on Team USA,” said Battaglia. “The training, the trying out, the melding with new teammates and coaches has been challenging but ever so rewarding. I look forward to the event and to bringing home the results of our effort—hopefully in gold! We really appreciate all the support from our home team.” 

Team USA paddlers will compete with 17 other national teams in races of 200 meters, 500 meters and 2,000 meters in length. All four Team USA athletes paddle in Morro Bay with the Central Coast SurviveOars Dragon Boat Team. The International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) is the governing body for the sport and sponsors of the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships, which happen in odd numbered years — 2021 was canceled due to the pandemic. 

“It is an honor to represent the United States and our local community,” Belin said. “The journey to get here has been filled with hours of dedication to meet personal goals and the coaches’ expectations. My success lies on the back of hard work and the never-ending support of my family and friends. I just arrived in Thailand and the excitement continues to build!”

The sport combines athleticism, art and tradition dating back 2500 years ago in China. The 40-foot long, canoe-like vessels with brightly painted, ornately carved dragon’s heads and tails weigh about 500 pound and are powered by a team of up to 20 paddlers working in synchronicity along with one steer person and one drummer. 

Central Coast SurviveOars team, gold-medal winners in 2000-meter race at Club Crew National Championships in 
Sarasota, Florida.Photo submitted

“The selection process for Team USA is rigorous, involving multiple training camps with several days of intense paddling and fitness testing,” said Sandy Mitchell, Central Coast Dragon Boat Association (CCDBA) president. “Candidates train year-round on dragon boats and outrigger canoes, in addition to twice-a-week ‘off water’ workouts with specific requirements. Only 24 dragon boat paddlers from across the nation are selected for each team.”

There will be a link to a livestream of the competition on the IDBF website at www.Dragonboat.sport. Remember Thailand is 14 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. 

“There is nothing like competing on this level that has made me feel so alive,” Adams said. “I think what does it is pushing myself way outside my comfort zones. I highly recommend it!”

The non-profit CCDBA officially formed in 2014. And currently has 135 registered paddlers. The founding team, the Central Coast SurviveOars, began as a group of cancer survivors and supporters in 2007. 

“The four local Team USA paddlers are all cancer survivors; now they are competing at the highest level on the world stage,” Mitchell said. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

CCDBA welcomes everyone to participate. To paddle as a guest, go to CCDBA.org, click Paddle With Us. Practice times are listed on the website. Pick a practice time, sign two forms online, and contact registration@ccdba.org to sign up for a practice. The first ‘guest’ practice is free.

Anyone can take part in according to his or her own individual level, goals, and physical fitness. The paddling technique involves the entire body in the stroke, emphasizing the larger muscle groups, so it is a great full-body workout. 

It is also an inclusive sport, with all age categories; the Senior C division is ‘over 60’ paddlers, there is an ‘under 16’ category, and all ages in-between. Many competitions include cancer survivor categories, and a paradragon team was recently formed.

To join a team, register as a team paddler the cost is $175/year or $125 for cancer survivors. Starting August 1, it’s half price to join for 2023. If you have 10 people who want to form a dragon boat team, contact president@ccdba.org 

“CCDBA is committed to building a community of dragon boat teams on the Central Coast,” Mitchell said. “We are hoping to start a team of high school students, a college-age team, and a mixed adult ‘all ages’ team. All it takes to start a team is 10 people willing to learn paddling together; the organization can help with training a coach and steersperson for new teams.”

The Central Coast SurviveOars team most recently competed in July at the National Club Crew Championships in Sarasota, Florida in the All Cancer Survivor Small Boat category. A small dragon boat is 10 paddlers, a drummer and a steersperson. The team of 13 cancer survivors, both men and women, won a gold medal in the 2000-meter race, and silver medals in the 200-meter and 500-meter races. The team qualified for a berth at the 2024 World Club Crew Championships in Ravenna, Italy. They thank the Morro Bay Rotary Club for a community grant that supported participation in this competition.  

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