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Members of the "Rez Rowers" were all fired up to race in this year's seventh-annual Dragon Boat Festival as they walked in the parade of teams on Friday evening. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Dragon Boat Festival: Paddling Club makes debut

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BEMIDJI - First City Paddling Club of Bemidji debuted at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Friday afternoon.

The creators of the club, Mark Walters, Mitch Rautio, John Arenz, Mike Huerbin, and Greg Ramey, stood next to their new dragon boat, talking to spectators and presenting informational flyers about their mission.

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"We're just five enthusiastic paddlers who wanted to get a boat and use it," said Walters, the club's president.

The club isn't entering a team in this year's Dragon Boat race, but all five men will be racing with either The Wooly Irishmen or the HydraHeads.

Rautio heads the Wooly Irishmen and Walters captains HydraHeads. Huerbin and Ramey are Wooly Irishmen, while Arenz is a HydraHead.

Through instruction of paddling techniques and team building exercises, the club aims to teach the greater Bemidji community the skills of effective dragon boat racing.

An ultimate goal for the club is to organize a traveling team.

"We have talked to the Canadian dragon boat teams about running a circuit with them," Rautio said.

First City will have its usual padding season from May to August. The current 2012 season is in effect until the end of the month.

Members will meet for practice at Cameron Park, and are expected to bring their own life jacket and pay an annual membership fee.

"We plan to be practicing at least once a week," Walters said.

While the club isn't practicing, the boat will be open for communal use.

Although the club is eager to begin the team season, it still has some kinks that need to be smoothed out.

"A major hurdle was to figure out where to put this boat," Arenz said, adding the eventual hope is to store the dragon boat in a public area where it will be accessible to the Bemidji public.

Despite that, the club's officers are keen on the eventual purchase of a second boat.

"Profits would go to a second boat," Walters said. He also stated that two boats would better allow for increased public use and some local competition.

For the five men, competition strengthens their rapport.

"It's a friendship," Walters summed.

For more information on joining the team, contact Walters at 218-751-8235, or Rautuo 760-0099.

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