Paddles up for Dragon Boating!

Published on: March 29, 2013

Ed Norstrem, president of the Leviathans, the local dragon boating team based at MiraBay in Apollo Beach, commands from the rear as paddlers practice for their next big race May 11. Penny Fletcher Photo

Ed Norstrem, president of the Leviathans, the local dragon boating team based at MiraBay in Apollo Beach, commands from the rear as paddlers practice for their next big race May 11. Penny Fletcher Photo


With a dragon head on the front, tail on the back, and a drum steadily beating out the cadence for the stroke, Ed Norstrem steers a full boat of paddlers through the Apollo Beach lagoon.

Although the dragon costuming and drummer are only used during official races and not during practices, it was easy to imagine as the Leviathans made their way from the MiraBay dock into deeper water.

Paddles up- paddles down. Everything was in complete physical and mental sync. The precision was unmistakable as each member of the team from high schoolers to retirees moved their hands, arms and bodies as one.

The boat operated like a well-oiled machine. Paddles up. Paddles down. As it glided, you could imagine the dragon’s roar.

Newland Communities, MiraBay’s developer, remains very supportive, Norstrem said.

May 11 beginning at 9 a.m. the lagoon behind the MiraBay clubhouse will teem with dragon boats dressed in full regalia. Drums will beat and steer masters will stand at the back of the boats commanding paddlers through a series of maneuvers that will assure their safety, unison and possible win.

The Leviathans hope other teams will register for this year’s race. Last year about 60 people took part in the event.

Deadline for teams to register is May 4, said MiraBay’s Lifestyle Manager Alex Murphy.

Anyone 15 years old or more may paddle and some paddlers in other clubs are in their 80s according to the sport’s main sponsor, the Pan Am Dragon Boat Association, LLC based in Tampa.

Pan Am is a full service dragon boat production company that sells supplies and also promotes clinics, camps and races all over the southeast.

“There’s still plenty of time for corporations and other businesses to get teams together if they want to sign up for the May 11 race,” said Jill Vanderpol, MiraBay’s Community Specialist.

There will be a tent for shade but spectators are advised to bring their own lawn chairs. Food vendors will also be available for those who wish to purchase food and drinks, said Murphy who is also currently arranging some music and entertainment.

Norstrem and his team brought Dragon Boating to MiraBay from Tampa after participating on a team through his job at JP Morgan Chase.

“I personally started with a team sponsored by JP Morgan Chase about seven years ago,” Norstrem said. “We practiced at Cruis A Cade on the Hillsborough River, before forming the MiraBay team in May of 2012. This is our first full year as a MiraBay team.”

A dragon boat without the head and tail is 40 feet long. With the head and tail it is about 47 feet long and weighs about 750 pounds, he explained.

“First we (locals) formed a team that paddled on the Hillsborough River,” Norstrem said. “But after awhile, we wondered why we were driving all the way up there. So we asked the developer about using the docks here.”

One of the reasons Newland is so supportive is that dragon boating is one sport a whole family can do together, regardless of age. At a time when so many things depend upon ability determined by age groups, in this sport, if you can paddle, you’re welcome.

“It can be strenuous. You have to limber up,” said Norstrem.

Before each practice, the group performs both individual and group exercises.

“This is one sport we do with our dad,” said Zack Hoover, 19, who along with his brother Ben, 17, paddles with their dad, Bret. Besides participating in the sport, Bret serves as the club’s vice president and Zack as its treasurer.

But not just men and boys, women and girls also participate.

In fact, in races, one of the rules states that at least 8 of the 20 seats in a full boat must be filled with women occupants. The drummer and steer person make a team total of 22.

But the sport isn’t about gender. It’s about staying in sync from the time they enter the boat until they finish a practice or race.

Bill and Susan Maxwell started paddling with the team because of their daughter Samantha, 16, who sails competitively.

“I love all kinds of boats,” Samantha said as she limbered up before practice.

The local team, the Leviathans, practices an hour twice during the week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. at the MiraBay lagoon behind the main clubhouse.

To inquire about attending the event, contact Murphy at (813) 649-1500, Ext. 28.

To find out more about participating with a Dragon Boat team, contact Newland Communities Marketing Coordinator Jillian Harris at (813) 685-7500.

More can be found about the MiraBay team at and about the Pan Am Dragon Boat Association at