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Members of the HyrdaHeads raise their paddles in triumph Saturday at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. The team is the first to win back-to-back titles at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

LAKE BEMIDJI DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL: Back-to-Back for HydraHeads

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LAKE BEMIDJI DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL: Back-to-Back for HydraHeads
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI -- History was once again made at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat festival.

The Bemidji team HydraHeads was crowned champion on Saturday, the first back-to-back winners in the nine years of the festival.

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In the Gold Division Finals, the HydraHeads took on the Diggers, the Pine Tree Paddlers and the Wavemakers. The HydraHeads, who represent Headwaters Canoe and Kayak, took the early lead and never gave it up over the 500-meter course in picking up the championship win.

Mark Walters, the team captain of the Hydraheads, said the one of the major reasons the team was able to pull ahead so quickly into the race was due to their fast start.

"Hands down, the most important part is the start. Not to sell anything else short, but you have to stay in rhythm together," he said.

Walters said the team includes canoe enthusiasts and estimated each team member has logged about 100 hours of paddling time each. He said he was happy with his team being the first to make it consecutive wins.

"It's something we've been trying to do for a number of years and it's kind of eluded us," Walters said. "It felt good today. We thought our chances were really good to do a repeat."

The Hydraheads have now won the festival a total of four times in nine years.

In all, 58 dragon boat teams took to the water Saturday to compete for trophies and bragging rights in specific race categories. Throughout the day, teams raced in a minimum of two races to try to make it to the final heats. Teams from specific industries, such as in health care, banking and manufacturing, competed for traveling trophies, using times from each team's first race to determine winners.

Earlier in the morning heats, there was a scary moment for paddlers and festivalgoers as a paddler on one of the boats suffered some type of cardiac event. Team members, along with first responders, were able to pull the man from his boat onto shore, where paramedics attended to him before he was taken by stretcher to a waiting ambulance.

Brian Bissonette, an event organizer, said incident was the first real medical event the festival has experienced.

"He had passed out in the boat before they got to the final buoy. They got him to shore and immediately started treating him. He is stable and speaking in the hospital tonight," he said.

Bissonette praised first responders, saying the outcome could have been very different if they had not been there.

"That's why we have them here -- just in case. They were called upon and, boy, did they come through," he said. "Their response time was incredible so we're blessed and very thankful."

Planning for the next Dragon Boat Festival will begin in the next couple of weeks. Bissonette said there is planned construction to the waterfront's parks, which may cause the festival to change locations.

"We may have to relocate next year, but I can guarantee you this, the 10th annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival will happen in 2015," Bissonette said, noting the event will be held July 29-Aug. 1.

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