It had the makings of a bestselling thriller — the heartbeat of a mythical creature, a group of high school pupils, a couple of roped-in onlookers and a wide open lake.

Thrilling it may have been but it was not remotely scary when Cromwell College pupils, along with one father and another person who was watching from the lake, tried paddling a dragon boat at the college’s aquatic centre on Sunday.

Cromwell College head of faculty PE Ann-Maree Chatterton said the story began at a Have a Go sports day in Dunedin last year.

Cromwell College Head of Faculty PE Ann-Maree Chatterton, left, and Aoraki Dragon Boat Association events director Mike Robinson with the dragon boat on loan to Cromwell College.

Aoraki Dragon Boat Association events director Mike Robinson said he was so impressed with the ability of the Cromwell pupils on the day that he was determined to get them in a boat and competing in the secondary school championship at Lake Ruger, in Canterbury, on March 24.

Ms Chatterton said Sunday’s session was about getting enough people together to get the boat in the water. Many of the pupils who were at the Have a Go day were involved in other sports and were not available for the dragon boat.

But Mr Robinson remained confident about a Cromwell College crew.

Dragon Boat Association events director Mike Robinson, right, instructing Cromwell College students as they prepare to try paddling a dragon boat loaned to the school by Aoraki Dragon Boat Association.

Their training programme, written by Mr Robinson, would be led by former Christchurch dragon boat enthusiast Mel Dyet, who recently moved to Cromwell.

A dragon boat cost between about $18,000 and $30,000 and had to be shipped from China. Aoraki had bought six new boats so was able to lend one of its older ones to Cromwell College. It was brought south initially to race in an event that was cancelled due to weather conditions.

It took 22 people to fully crew a dragon boat — including a sweep at the rear and a drummer at the front setting the paddlers’ pace — but it could be sailed by 10, Mr Robinson said.

In Chinese culture, the classic dragon (or Loong) rides the clouds in the sky and commands the wind, mist and rain. Legend has it the pace of the paddlers mimicked the beat of a dragon’s heart and would ward off evil spirits.

Today the paddlers are more interested in warding off the competition at the finish line.