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Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival looking to exceed last year

Even in a down economy, paddlers are still looking toward the fast-approaching fourth annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. With 66 teams, about 1,300 participants, the numbers are comparable to last year's registration.

"As of (Tuesday, July 14), we have exceeded what we had last year," said Gary Johnson, festival co-chair. "That's a record number of teams."

Participating teams are local and come from out of state and country, including teams from Winnipeg, Manitoba and Iowa.

"We do have a quite a few new teams that have never participated before, both locally and out of town," Johnson said.

One new team to join the races this year is Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates, Inc. with its team, the Water Soaked Nerds. WSN also became a major sponsor for the event this year.

"We enjoy being involved in the community here and it's such a major community event," said Paul Richards, captain of Water Soaked Nerds.

Richards said that while the economy was affecting many businesses, WSN still wanted to help sponsor the event and participate in the race.

"It's part of giving back to the community," he said.

Their team name, however, was a little more happenstance.

"As far as the name goes, we tried to figure out a name that still worked with the initials of Widseth Smith Nolting. We looked through a dictionary and since engineers and architects are pretty nerdy ... the other two were pretty obvious," he said.

With only one team member who has paddled in the races before, Richards said the team was just looking for fun.

"The team will have a lot of fun and that's what's important," he said. "We're in it for the enjoyment and camaraderie of it. As far as being competitive goes... that's not really the goal."

The festival boasts a revamped Web site at

The new site will allow team managers to upload team photos, schedule practice times and adjust the team roster, Johnson said. The site also will offer an online store to purchase festival merchandise.

"It's a tool for team managers," he said. "The whole site has been redesigned as far as the look and feel."

The three-day festival opens July 30 with a food court and the opening of the Dragon's Den (beer tent) with a live Retro 80s show by Mix 103.7. Musical entertainment and food occur on July 31 and Aug. 1.

Team practices will be happening all week long, starting on July 27 and races will begin at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 1.