Northwoods Adventure: 14th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival
Lake Bemidji’s Dragon Boat festival has been around for 14 years. This year, 54 teams competed in Saturday’s race. The dragon boat consists of 20 team members, plus a drummer and a steersman.
“You paddle for up to three minutes on a 500-meter course. Moral of the story, the fastest team at the end of the day brings home the championship hardware,” Rosie Berg, the Marketing Co-Committee for Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival, said.
The Bemidji tradition started in 2006 after the Bemidji Rotary Club went to the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival in Duluth. Berg said they went to go test it out.
“So we learned from them, they taught us everything that we needed to know to start a festival ourselves. And sure, enough we started ours a couple years after training with them, figuring out how to do it. Brought it here and it has been very successful ever since then,” Berg said.
The festival is put on by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bemidji Rotary Club to give back to local businesses in town, and as a fundraiser for the Rotary Club to build a new playground in Bemidji. Brian Bissonette, the MC for the Dragon Boat Festival, says this year there were 17 more teams than last year, the weather was very cooperative, and the crowd of spectators were full of energy.
“It’s just so much fun and if you have never been to one, you have to come here to really understand it. Even if you’re not even on a boat, it’s just such a great community gathering. The energy is unlike any other even that I’m involved with and it all accumulates on race day, so today is the biggest day of all and you can sense that with everybody here today,” Bissonette said.
The winner of this year’s Dragon Boat Race was the HydraHeads. Team leader Mark Walters says 90 percent of the team returned from last year. He says this year was their comeback year. His strategy for winning?
“Is to really be patient. Paddling is so essential to stay in time in this event and not rush your strokes. We believe in having a super hard strong start and then we just kind of settle in to just a long powerful stroke. We pop it up a little bit in the middle and then go back into our long stroke and hope for a good sprint at the end,” Walters said.