The U.S. Dragon Boat Federation has announced that it will host its 2021 Club Crew National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota. A press conference, held on Thursday, Aug. 6, by park representatives and Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), who explained how the event will proceed.
From July 9-11, 2021, more than 2,000 competitors and 500 spectators will gather for the competition, where standard boat and small boat races will take place. Small boats, which are new to the sport, seat 10 rowers; the standard boat seats 20. Dragon boat racing is a highly competitive sport, with athletes ranging from ages 16 to 60 all competing for a spot in the international competition in 2022, which will also be held in Sarasota.
"We've been down to visit the site, and are looking forward to holding both competitions in Sarasota," says Andrew Szymanski, president of the U.S. Dragon Boat Federation. "We also have a lot of international clubs that will travel for this event."
Eighty to 100 crews are expected to register, giving Nathan Benderson Park and Sarasota the opportunity to showcase the event and its facility to the world. Visit Sarasota County is also involved in the competition, arranging hotel and transportation plans, community engagement and offering marketing support.
"The nationals will be a test event for the international competition the following year," says Shelby Connett of Visit Sarasota. "Many people make vacation trips out of this competition, and will enjoy what the area has to offer in terms of entertainment, restaurants and more."
The dragon boat races will take place in addition to recurring NBP events like the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Championships and the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships in April, as well as the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals Competition in June.
"When we host an event at the park, it's not just about having an event here, but creating a long-term partnership with any organization," says Nathan Benderson Park representative Stephen Rodriguez. "We want to meet the needs of the athletes on the water and make sure the overall experience is positive for everyone."
Nathan Benderson Park and SANCA are monitoring the Covid-19 pandemic closely, and will make plans for operations closer to the event date. The U.S. Dragon Boat Federation is hopeful that people will still travel internationally for the competition.
"This is an exciting time for dragon boat racing, as many people haven't heard of the sport," says Rodriguez. "It's a great opportunity to promote sport participation, and engage the community here in Sarasota and Bradenton."