Saturday, April 30, 2022
by Melissa LaScaleia
The annual Dragon Boat Festival has returned to the Market Common on the big lake in Grand Park. A beloved Market Common tradition, the festival acts as a fundraiser for Ground Zero, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Founded by Scott and Kimberly Payseur twenty-three years ago, the organization offers support to students during what is, for many, difficult pre-teen and teen years.
“There are students who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere,” Scott says. “So we try and create a place where everyone feels welcome no matter their background, family situation, or religious beliefs. We are a ministry-driven organization, but we support students no matter their beliefs.”
Ground Zero remodeled the old Rivoli Theater downtown, which they use for student events and outreach, to provide a safe space for teenagers to spend time together in meaningful ways. It is a place where teens can go, belong and grow. Through life-changing events and nurturing relationships, Ground Zero makes a positive impact in the lives of today’s teenagers, equipping them with life skills like self-reliance and confidence, to help set them up for success and start their journey as young adults on the right footing.
“Here, we let teens know they are not alone,” Scott says. “We establish authentic relationships with them and teach them how to do the same, empowering them by sharing tools they can use to impact their world. And we do it by focusing on sharing fun, wholesome, and rewarding experiences with them— both as a means to uplift, as well as to expose them to new ways of having a good time.”
The Dragon Boat Festival is a perfect example of the type of activity Ground Zero champions— fun, uplifting, unique, and memorable.
“After two years of Covid, it really is exciting to be able to gather at Market Common in person once more and really have a fun day,” says Stephanie Sebring, advancement director for the organization. “It gives me purpose to do what I do. We get to make a positive impact in the lives of kids during the years they’re most susceptible to influences that change the course of their lives. I have children of my own, and I think the best legacy we can leave with them is time spent together.”
Now in its fourteenth year, the festival draws people by the thousands. Lavishly painted, ornate boats are brought in for the event, along with professionals who know how to steer them properly to avoid any directional mishaps on the lake.
The boats are powered by teams formed from a diverse array of local groups all eager to row to victory. A team can be formed by any number of special interests such as: churches; schools; families; businesses; HOA’s, medical groups; gyms; investors; clubs; golfers; friends. Each participant is asked to raise $200 to paddle, and Ground Zero works with each team to secure additional members, funding, and sponsorship if necessary.
Also manning the boat is a drummer, an individual who, as the name implies, beats steadily on a drum for motivation and to keep everybody, hopefully, paddling in unison. Each team gets a one-hour practice session the week leading up to the races, which is typically a noisy, uproariously fun time. Then it’s time for the big day.
“We race four boats at a time, and we can have over sixty teams,” Scott explains. “While four are racing, four boats are loading, so there’s never any lag in time for participants. There’s a first heat in the morning, then there’s a second heat in the afternoon in which everybody races again. We take the best time from all of the teams and pair them up in the final race, which will be around 4pm. In the afternoon, we pair up similar groups to race against each other, like real estate or media— we also have middle and high school boats— and the winning team is awarded a trophy.”
“Holding the festival at the Market Common is part of what makes it so special,” he adds. “It’s a beautiful, ideal location. Because it’s a smaller body of water, people can see easily and watch right at the finish line. I’ve seen other Dragon Boat Festivals held on big lakes, and you almost need binoculars to see what’s happening. If people want to leave, they can walk around and explore the area. The setting of Market Common makes the festival unique in addition to the uniqueness of the Dragon Boats themselves.”
And there’s plenty at the festival besides the races. There’s a DJ going all day long, food, and other festivities. The vendor area will consist of seventy vendors offering arts and crafts, sundries, and those cool festival treats everyone knows and loves. There are activities for children like face painting, a family fun zone, and inflatables— with inflatables for the adults too.
This year’s platinum sponsor for the event is Dependable Plumbing Service and Air. Other sponsors include: Tidelands Health; Monarch Roofing; J and L Kayak Ecoventures; Homewood Suites Coastal Grand Mall; United Contractors; Hadwin-White; Carolina Cool; and DRG, to name a few.
“These sponsors help support the festival and make our year possible for the youth in our community, as do the participants and attendees,” says Stephanie.
Be sure to register for the event early to secure your commemorative t-shirt.
14th Annual Dragon Boat Festival
Grand Park in the Market Common
Saturday, April 30, 8am-4pm
Visit www.GZdragonboat.com to register. Participants are asked to raise $200 per person to participate in this fun-filled day. Free admittance; Family Fun Zone $10 per person for daily pass.