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A variety of facial expressions could be seen during the First City Crew's morning race. The City of Bemidji team finished 17th out of 75 teams. Pioneer Photo/ Monte Draper

Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival: Exciting event for teams, spectators

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Try to find a good parking space during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. Go on. Just try.

Cars were lined up and down the streets surrounding the Bemidji waterfront Saturday, Aug. 6, as 75 teams raced in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. Library Park was packed with team tents while hundreds of spectators navigated through the chaos in hopes of finding an area to clearly see the waves of dragon boats racing each other.

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In the large crowd forming around the waterfront, Chris Westlund ate cheese curds and cheered on the teams.

"It's really about the competitive nature of the event," he said.

Bemidji's moody weather quickened the race schedule so the races would finish before rain came. Regardless of the rush, an air of excitement settled on the participants and audience as race after race was announced on the loud speaker.

As festival goers walked through the jumbled maze of team tents, their eyes might be caught by the glittering stars and purple banners of the North Stars, from REM North Star, Inc. Headed by team captain Julie Rubey, the North Stars were light hearted and easy going. Team members ate freshly grilled hot dog and hamburgers as they sat around a large picnic table, talking about their first race.

"First in the heat" was a phrase being enthusiastically tossed around.

"It's thrilling, and it's our first year here," said Phil Godel, REM housing program director.

REM housing provides service options for people with disabilities, and serves more than 400 people in their region.

"All of our decorations are made by clients," said Godel. "We are pretty happy to be here."

Teams flashed their different colors, some decorating their tents, others going as far as to decorate themselves.

This gusto rang true for the Pachamama Paddlers, who donned colorful face paint to show their team spirit.

The Pachamama Paddlers from the Bemidji-based Indigenous Environmental Network raced for their first time at Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

The Indigenous Environmental Network strives to create environmental justice in communities so that they stay healthy and safe.

"It's so much fun to be here," said team captain Simone Senogles. "I can't believe how many people are here."

Although a first-year team, the Pachamamas were hyped for the races.

"The energy is high here," said Senogles. "You can feel it."

For many, the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is the first, if not only, dragon boat race they have attended.

The River City Dragons, however, are comfortable with the dragon boat racing scene.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the River City Dragons have competed in the World Champion Dragon Boat races, held in Toronto.

"We race nationally. We race internationally," said Norm Woodbeck.

Part of the Manitoba Paddling Association, Woodbeck and other teammates have been coming to the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival for five years.

"It's a good place to compete. That's why we keep coming back," said Woodbeck.

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