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Anxiously awaited: HydraHeads win eighth Dragon Boat Festival Championship

Krista Matison congratulates her other HydraHeads teammates after winning the Championship Division on Saturday in the 14th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- Waterfront crowds roared as the WikiWiki Ohana team chased down the mighty HydraHeads in the championship race Saturday at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

But perennial favorites HydraHeads held off the challenge and returned to a familiar spot -- Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Champions. Saturday's win was the team's eighth title in the 14 years of the event.

But unlike other years, they had to wait a bit to celebrate on the waterfront. After the four boats in the championship race returned to the docks, announcer Brian Bissonette quickly informed the racers and the large crowd that the championship was under review for a possible penalty.

“It was a little shaky at the end, but wherever we end up, we did what we needed to do out there,” HydraHead paddler Nina Lubarski said while her team calmly awaited to hear official results.

The initial excitement of the crowd was dulled by the long wait to find out the final standings, but Bissonette praised the teams for being patient while the scores were being figured out by officials.


The quick catch-up that WikiWiki Ohana made at the end of the race led them to drift out of their lane and hit another boat. That lane diversion resulted in adding two seconds to their final race time. That penalty was just enough to bump them from second to third place.

“It’s unfortunate, but those are the rules of the dragon boat,” Bissonette said addressing the crowd.

HydraHeads of Headwaters Canoe and Kayak, sealed their eighth win of the Dragon Boat Festival with a time of 2:48.8. The River City Dragons then took second place ahead of WikiWiki Ohana.

Last year, the Prostate Paddlers of Winnipeg snapped the HydraHeads' streak of five straight championships.

Lubarski said the team had a pretty steady day of racing. But most of all, the team enjoys getting together for the event and spending the day with their fellow racing teams.

“Every year it is a lot of fun,” Lubarski said. “ It is a cool community that we get to gather with at least once a year.”

Fellow HydraHeads paddler Maren Hagen agreed the festival provides an outlet for her to see friends that she only gets to see a few times a year.

The clanking of medals and echoes of team cheers could be heard throughout the waterfront as teams returned to their villages to pack up and take in the rest of the entertainment the festival had to offer.


“Just to be on the water getting to compete in a sport is really exciting,” Hagen said.

Natalie Hilden is the Pioneer's summer reporting intern. She graduated from Nevis High School in 2017 and is now finishing up her bachelor's degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. She is majoring in News Editorial Journalism with a minor in design studies. Apart from journalism she paints and draws in her free time and enjoys watching women's soccer.
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