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Dragon Boat Festival registration extended

About 30 teams have signed up for the Aug. 4 and 5 Dragon Boat Festival, but the committee is aiming to launch a field of 40 teams.

Consequently, the committee extended the July 1 deadline to July 15. Teams are made up of 20 paddlers and many businesses have sponsored teams, said Brian Bissonette of Paul Bunyan Telephone, one of the team sponsors. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce is co-chairing the festival with the Bemidji Rotary Club.

Bissonette said anyone who would like to take part in the festival and Dragon Boat races but doesn't want to organize a team can sign up individually, pay one-twentieth of the $750 team registration ($37.50) and the individual will be assigned to a team based on availability.

Bissonette said many food, beverage and arts vendors will set up at the Lake Bemidji waterfront for the Friday evening festival kickoff and Saturday races day. The Concordia Language Villages will also have a culture booth at the event.

Spectators are welcome to watch the races at no charge, Bissonette said.

In addition to bringing teams and their support crews to town, Aug. 5 is Crazy Daze, so racers and spectators will move inland to the downtown area to shop between events.

"It's kind of a combination thing," Bissonette said. "They can come check out the Dragon Boats and do some shopping at the same time."

The story behind the Chinese Dragon Boat tradition dates back to 277 B.C., when Chu Yuan, a revered poet, drowned. Fishermen raced out in their boats in an attempt to rescue him, but failed. So, they threw zong zi, sticky rice balls in the water to appease the ravenous fish.

Now, the festivals are held in his honor. People eat zong zi and other treats. There is also the legend that anyone able to stand a raw egg on its end at noon on the festival day will have good luck for the following year.

The boats come complete with a dragon's head prow and scaly tail stern. The races will run three boats at a time along a course from the waterfront to Diamond Point Park, and every team is guaranteed two races. The winners of each timed heat will compete in the finals

For details, to register a team or volunteer, contact the Chamber at 444-3541.