63 teams to compete in dragon boat races
The Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival caps its number of teams at 100. Bemidji Rotary President Gary Johnson never thought Bemidji would have to worry about implementing a limit.
He may have been wrong.
The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival last year attracted 36 teams in its inaugural year. This year, 63 teams are signed up to compete Aug. 3-4 at the waterfront in downtown Bemidji.
"We were ecstatic to have 36," said Johnson, who helped organize the Lake Bemidji festival based on the Lake Superior festival in Duluth.
Since 20 to 22 people are in each of the boats, more than 1,200 people will compete this year in Bemidji.
"We couldn't be happier," Johnson said.
Among the teams competing next month will be Dragon Power from Winnipeg, Canada.
Dragon Power, Johnson said, is an intimidating team because members come equipped with their own supplies and uniforms. The team travels and competing at various dragon boat festivals around the continent.
Dragon Power finished second last year, losing in a close race to Wooly Irishmen, a team sponsored by Bemidji Woolen Mills and Keg N' Cork. Wooly Irishmen beat Dragon Power by less than one second.
"It was a perfect finish to a good event," Johnson said.
Because of the increased number of participants, four teams will compete at once this year. The 40-foot boats are rented from a company in Toronto, and the Rotary this year secured eight instead of six. Four will compete against one another during the heats while four others will be available for practice.
The course is a 500-meter race, "like a sprint," with each heat lasting two-three minutes, he said.
Johnson said he is not really worried about the festival growing too large - yet.
"We can keep getting more boats," he said.
What may become a factor, at some point in the future, is the size of the venue.
The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival will kick off on Thursday this year. The MIX 103.7 Retro 80s Show will broadcast live from 6-10 p.m. from the waterfront.
Bands have been secured for performances on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Bob and the Beachcombers will perform. Kid Hollywood will play on Saturday.
Meanwhile, activities will be available for the whole family. Also available will be food, music, children's activities and a parade of teams. And, for adults, a beer tent will be available throughout the festival's duration.
Concordia Language Village again will help with the festival. Dragon boat festivals are based on Oriental culture, and Concordia's Chinese village, Sen Lin Hu, will help with cultural events, Johnson said.
The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat festival will be held rain or shine - as long as no lightning is present.
"It's going to be busy and exciting - all in a very good way," Johnson said.