to: Mayor Dean, City Council, Parks & Rec and Waterfront Commissions
February 1, 2002
This is a quick note to add my support to Phyllis Alvarez' letter of Monday January 28 regarding the Berkeley Dragons. I believe this support is shared by most members of the Waterfront Commission, although this letter represents only my personal views.
As you may be aware, I am a strong advocate of incorporating dragon boats into the mix of activities on the Berkeley Waterfront. Winning the Mayor's Cup and competing in other regional events are worthy objectives - but the real value of dragon boats is the efficiency with which these amazing vessels can bring meaningful on-the-water recreational activities to such a large number of active participants.
Consider the numbers: With 20 paddlers per boat, plus the steersperson and drummer, a two-boat youth program could keep 44 kids thoroughly occupied for an afternoon or morning practice session. Twice that number if they trade off to rest between practice races. I can't think of any gym, playing field, or court that can handle those numbers.
The surface of the water does not have to be purchased, and never needs fences, landscaping, or maintenance. Staffing costs are very low on a per-participant basis. And, if a team or club is involved, then access to volunteers can reduce staffing costs even further.
There are some setup costs, of course. The boats cost around $10-15 thousand each, and a viable program should have at least two. There should also be a small powered safety skiff, at about $5-10 thousand additional. Add a few more thousand for lifejackets and paddles.
But that is the extent of capitalization required. The boats last for many years and maintenance is only a few thousand dollars per year. Berkeley Yacht Club has indicated a willingness to participate by providing meeting and organizing space at off-peak hours, and it is extremely likely that the Berkeley Marina would allow dragon boats to use a number of always-vacant "inside tie" berthing areas. I've put up a web page detailing exactly how this could work, and showing where the team could find sufficient protected water to practice within the Marina. Please take a look at
After working with playing field advocates in conjunction with planning efforts for the Eastshore State Park, I am developing a new appreciation for the problems associated with meeting the demand for playing fields. They cost millions to acquire and are expensive to maintain and manage. Field sports are important and I'm in favor of more playing fields, on or off the waterfront. But there are also significant numbers of kids and young adults who would jump at the chance to get out on the water. Perhaps equally important, some of these kids have no particular attraction to conventional field sports, and easy access to competitive boating would broaden their world immeasurably. It's a team sport that attracts a completely different kind of kid, in my experience, and these are often the kids who are being missed by conventional athletic programs and stand to benefit the most from this kind of involvement.
Another important attribute of dragon boat racing is that basic participation demands very little physical ability or specialized skill or training. The entry bar is set a lot lower than it is for sailing, windsurfing, high performance rowing, and even kayaking.
The more I learn about the costs of providing facilities for organized recreation, the more I believe that dragon boating could become a cost-effective and highly valued component of our City's diverse mix of recreation programs. Please do what you can to support the efforts of the Berkeley Dragons to get this rolling, and please support the inclusion of non-motorized boating facilities in the Eastshore State Park.