A beautiful, quiet Saturday morning on the Nehalem river was punctuated by calls of “paddles up”, “let it run” and the synchronized slicing of paddles through the water.
By Jordan Wolfe
The North Coast’s own dragon boat team, the Wasabi TideRunners of Nehalem Bay are preparing for their first international race. Currently in their fourth season, the TideRunners are heading to Ireland in September.
“I love being out on the water,” said Char vonAhlefeld, coach of the TideRunners, “We get to see bald eagles, seals and herons. It’s lovely to be out. What’s not to like about it?”
As a blue heron flew overhead, Barb Edwardson, one of the steerers for the TideRunners, said, “That one’s name is Cranky. Or that one might be Cantankerous.”
Dragon boating, with roots dating back over 2,000 years in China, has organized racing in 59 different countries, according to Jeff Campbell of USA Dragon Boating. The sport features a crew of 10 to 40 paddlers, depending on the size of the boat; a drummer or caller with a loud voice to keep time for the paddlers; and a steersperson to keep the crew safe while they navigate the boat away from obstacles and keep in line with the wind.
“We’re just paddling around the world, basically,” said vonAhlefeld. “This is kind of big for the North Coast to have a team down here.”
She leads a crew of nearly two dozen women, equally comprised of members from Netarts to Astoria and the Portland metro area.
“They drive 45 minutes to an hour just to get to practice,” she said of the teams commitment.
The TideRunners are incredibly grateful for the support they have received from the community, according to vonAhlefeld, especially from the Port of Nehalem.
A breast cancer survivor, vonAhlefeld joined Wasabi Paddling Club in Portland, which has several distinct teams ranging from Wasabi Fury, the premier team that often competes internationally; Wasabi Team SOAR for women paddlers who have survived cancer; Wasabi Special Dragons for athletes with developmental and physical disabilities; and other teams for specific demographics.
“A whole bunch of people were first starting,” she said of the team she joined. “About 20 of us just started who were breast cancer survivors.” In their first international race, in South Africa, they took gold.
As a teacher, vonAhlefeld would spend much of her summers on the coast.
“It’s actually kind of selfish,” she said with a laugh, “I was missing practice in Portland and thought about bringing a team to Nehalem.”
The TideRunners are actively searching for around a dozen more members for the team. Currently, the team is all women, but vonAhlefeld said that is simply because they have not, yet, had interest from enough men to create a mixed team.
“For a lot of people, dragon boaters are friends for life,” vonAhlefeld said. “The best part is the camaraderie you build.”
For more information, contact Char vonAhlefeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.