Sophia Hoch

Souderton Area High School student Sophia Hoch, wearing her USA National Team jersey, will be going to Thailand in August as part of the team representing the United States in the International Dragon Boat Federation's World Championships.

Bob Keeler — MediaNews Group 

SOUDERTON — Most people around here probably don't know much about dragon boat racing. 

"It's like a secret world that you never heard of," Sophia Hoch said, but added, "it's gaining popularity." 

In China, where the sport originated, it's as popular as football is in this country, said the Souderton resident who will be a junior at Souderton Area High School when classes start again in the fall.

Hoch, who is part of the USA National Team going to the International Dragon Boat Federation's World Championships Aug. 20 to 25 in Pattaya-Rayong, Thailand, said she learned about dragon boating after hearing from her aunt about the dragon boat team in Norristown.

"I went to practice and I tried it and I was like, I want to try this again," Hoch said. "Everyone was so welcoming. It was just a great experience." 

While crew and dragon boats are somewhat related, there's also a big difference, she said. 

Dragon boats have a team of 20 paddlers with half paddling on one side and the other half on the other side, she said. 

"You paddle in sync," Hoch said. 

Although there is a drummer to help set the beat for the paddlers, the drummer isn't the one actually setting the pace, she said. 

"That drummer follows the beat of the strokesperson," she said. 

The strokesperson is the paddler in the first seat on the right hand side of the boat, she said.

"Because the paddlers face the direction of boat-movement, dragon boaters 'paddle,' and do not 'row,'" Wikipedia information says.

The most popular distance for dragon boat races is 500 meters, but the races can also be 200, 1,000 or  2,000 meters, Aimee Hoch, Sophia's mother, said.

Three members of the Dragon Boat Club, which practices on the Schuylkill River in Norristown, are on the under 18 USA National Team going to Thailand, Sophia Hoch said. The other two are Michael Killen and Charlie Helfand. 

"I'm so honored to represent the United States and my hometown team right here in Montgomery County," Hoch said. "I've grown to love dragon boating."

The world championships are held every two years with the location changing each time, she said. Information on the 14th IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships is available on the group's Facebook page.

Four thousand athletes from 30 countries and six continents will take part in the racing, the information says. 

Hoch said she joined the local Dragon Boat Club in 2017 and decided to try out for the national team after a coach suggested last year that she give it a try. 

After sending in a video try-out, she was asked to come to California earlier this year for a second round of try-outs, then told the following month that she had made the team, she said. 

Six of her teammates on the national team come from the east coast and she's already practiced with them, she said. Later this month, she'll go to California for her first practice with the full team, she said.

The two week trip to Thailand with her family in August will be the first time she's been out of the United States, Hoch said.

Practices and workouts take place year round, she said. 

"We train inside in the wintertime," she said.

Practices are held three or four days a week and on the other days she runs and does cardio workouts, she said. 

She said people of all ages can do dragon boat racing and she plans to continue it for her entire life.

"This is kind of just my true passion," she said. 

It probably will be something she does on the side, rather than as a career, though, she said, because there are few jobs in dragon boating except as a coach. 

There are some colleges that have dragon boat teams, she said. 

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