Meet the Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team

by | May 2024

Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team at the 2023 Minocqua Dragon Boat Festival.

Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team at the 2023 Minocqua Dragon Boat Festival. Photo: Geri Miller, Minocqua Dragon Boat Festival

Local dragon boat team pursues paddling synchronicity.

A four-person rowing shell and a 20-person dragon boat are each 40 feet long. Oars propel rowing shells; paddles move dragon boats.

Biggest difference?

“You face forward in a dragon boat, and you can see where you’re going,” says Karen Anderson, coach and pacer for the White Bear Lake-based Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team.

Dragon boats and dragon boating are said to have originated in China some 2,000 years ago. Legend has it that these boats were used to celebrate the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese calendar. Its purpose, according to that same legend, was to turn aside misfortune while encouraging rain and prosperity.

A dragon head fronts the dragon boat’s bow; a tail protrudes from its stern. Paddles moving through the water symbolize the creature’s claws. The beating drum pacing the paddlers represents the dragon’s heartbeat.

Anderson and Lisa Ender spent much of the 1990s leading women on outdoor adventures. On an excursion to a Dragon Boat Festival in Grand Marais in 2001, they were hooked.

Eleven years after that first exposure to dragon boats, they formed Off the Edge—an all-women’s group that would become the premier dragon boat team in the region. They coach, paddle and steer. They also lead dragon boat community education classes for women in White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi.

There are 10 rows of benches in a dragon boat. Paddlers sit side by side. The front three benches house the quickest paddlers. Speed is a must; rhythm is a given. The strongest and most powerful paddlers sit in the middle seats and serve as the boat’s engine. Paddlers, called rockets, launch from the rear. Their mission is to control choppy and churned-up water. A drummer beats from the bow. The steerer, standing on the stern, directs with a 15-foot oar.

“It’s empowering,” Ender says. “You’ve got every person and every position doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.”

Races are sprints, typically 200 or 500 meters long. “It’s all out,” Ender says. “You’ll want to stop halfway through, but you won’t. If you can stand when the race is over, it means you haven’t given it your all.”

There is also a 2-kilometer oval race that Anderson describes as a roller derby with paddles. Needless to say, 40-foot paddle-powered boats aren’t very maneuverable. “Oval races are a riot,” Anderson says.

When Anderson and Ender formed the Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team in 2012, they didn’t have a boat. Today, the club rosters 29 women, with ages ranging from 32 to 72.

In season, members meet on the water three days per week. Many members attend off-season camps. A frequent off-the-water exercise is to run stairs in Stillwater.

In 2023, the team competed at five festivals. It placed first in the women’s division at Winnipeg, Canada, Chicago and Superior, Wisconsin. They finished second at Minocqua, Wisconsin, and third at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Big picture, the club has its sights set on competing in the U.S. Club Crew National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, in 2025. If the group places in the top four, it qualifies for the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships.

Training for the 2024 season began shortly after ice out. “We used to have a month where we didn’t talk about dragon boating,” Anderson says. “Now, we don’t do that.”

Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team
Facebook: Off the Edge Dragon Boat Team


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