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Dragon Boat Festival expands activities

BEMIDJI — An annual summer event is expanding its schedule of festivities.

The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is giving competitors another opportunity to race by adding the Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup to its list of events July 31-Aug. 4.

“It adds more dragon boat racing, which is the whole impetus of the event,” said Brian Bissonette, festival marketing director. “It was a natural addition.”

The 200-meter race, to be hosted Aug. 2, is about half the length of the main racing event, which involves a 500-meter — about half mile — course.

According to Bissonette, eight teams have registered for the Sprint Cup race, with eight more spots available before the July 15 registration deadline. Any team competing in the Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup must also compete in the main race as well.

“It’s going it be very similar to the races on race day,” Bissonette said. “Each team will get two races.”

Just like the main race, the team with the lowest combined completion times will be crowned champions, earning the team individual medals and a cup trophy.

Bissonette said because the race is the night before the big race, teams are allowed to have different rosters for each race to allow for flexibility.

Involved in the annual festival since its start eight years ago, Bissonette said the idea to have a smaller race was first suggested by dragon boat participant, who said smaller races before a main boat race is not uncommon.

“We’re always looking for ways to enhance the festival, but we’ve got some things that have become tradition,” said Bissonette, adding the Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup race is likely to become “tradition.”

Since its start in 2006, the dragon boat event has grown considerably, with just 37 teams in its first year to 75 teams in 2011.

This year, Bissonette said 65 teams have registered thus far.

Each co-ed team consists of 16-20 racers, with a minimum of eight women on each team.

With the vessels and other equipment provided by Great White North of Toronto, Ontario, Bissonette said no boating experience is necessary, but team members must be at least 14 years old.

“It’s a great team-building experience,” he said. Bissonette said the oldest racer he can remember ever entering was 81-years-old.

A weekend full of activities, the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival will host a variety of vendors, entertainment and viewing areas to watch the races.

“Not many festivals have the same race layout that we have, so watching it as a spectator is pretty cool,” Bissonette said. “It’s just an all-around great, free community event.”