Dragon Boaters Find Temporary Haven in Hollywood

The City of Hollywood rarely gets a chance to shine as a beacon of political sanity. But after a strange, months-long tussle between dragon boaters, a lone kayaker, and Broward County commissioners, the scrappy city now looks like a hero.

A dragon boating team known as the Blazing Paddles was threatened with eviction from West Lake Park in Hollywood this spring because one kayaker, Jerry Griffin, complained that their boat storage container was an eyesore. Despite pleas to the county commissioners and a petition signed by nearly 300 Broward residents, the team was booted from the park on September 30.

"One man's voice prevailed over hundreds," says longtime Blazing Paddles member Kristin Deffler.

Dragon boats are not your typical menace to society; they're 40-foot long canoes in which 20 people paddle to the beat of drummer, practicing an ancient Chinese sport open to athletes of all ages.

But in a tale typical of Broward politics, Griffn -- who was the only person complaining about the boat storage "monstrosity" -- won his battle anyway. He convinced county leaders that allowing the Blazing Paddles to store their boats in a county park set a dangerous precedent. Soon, everyone from bicyclists to kayakers would want free storage space, he warned.

On the day of their eviction, Griffin even emailed the county and threatened a lawsuit if the storage container was not moved:

If this process has not been completed then I will continue with a discrimination lawsuit against the county and all parties involved with the decision to refuse this priveledge to any other tax paying citizens. I have contacted several portable on demand storage companies that are VERY willing to begin placing containers all over broward county parks to store "equipment" to be used at the park. They welcome the opportunity to reach potential customers with the park advertising.

The scare tactic worked. Deffler and her teammates were forced out. Now, they're temporarily keeping their boats on a trailer at neighboring Holland Park in Hollywood. It's not an ideal situation, Deffler says, because the canoes are not protected from the weather or vandals, but it's fine for now.

She says the City of Hollywood has been quite welcoming -- "They're like, how can we help you?"-- and she's hopeful that the team will be able to build some kind of permanent structure to keep their boats there.

Of course, the waterways between Holland and West Lake parks connnect to each other, so Griffin may still hear the cursed drumming of the dragon boats as he kayaks. But at least he'll know he has the blessing of the Broward County commissioners behind him.

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