The sixth annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival will be held Friday through Sunday, Sept. 7 through Sept. 9 at Volunteer Park in Lakeside.
The first event was in 2012, but last year’s festival was canceled due to poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke. The Dragon Boat Festival features races with 20 rowers on long narrow boats, with an additional person steering the boat and one drummer to keep everyone motivated and in sync.
This year, Event Organizer Vonnie Day said they have already had 45 teams register and only have space for about five more before they reach capacity.
“We’ve had a great response,” Day said. “We have teams coming from Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta and throughout western Montana.”
This year’s event will feature the debut of an elite category of competition, where the best of the best will race each other in the Rocky Mountain Championship Division, which will take place each day during the corresponding race lengths. The 200-meter races are held Saturday and 500-meter races held Sunday.
“The Rocky Mountain Championship has really built our attendance as well,” Day said. “Our goal in establishing that was to raise the level of competition. We’re drawing teams for that event from across the country, very competitive teams who are club teams that paddle year-round and compete internationally.”
To date, more than 7,000 paddlers have competed in the Dragon Boat Festival on Flathead Lake. This year’s 45 teams will add another 1,000 or so paddlers to that figure, Day said.
She said the weekend is also loaded with other events that will make it appeal to anybody. Along with food vendors and a beer garden, the “world’s first paddleboard boxing” event will be staged. They will also have corn hole, human foosball and other kid-friendly games available. On Sunday there is a team chant competition.
Breast-cancer survivors play a huge role in this event, too, Day said. Dragon-boat racing and breast cancer have been tied together since a physician named Don MacKenzie realized that exercising upper-body muscles through rowing could benefit breast cancer survivors in their recovery.
They have a separate division for teams made up of entirely cancer survivors; three teams will compete in that division. Day said one is from the Flathead Valley, one is from Missoula and the other one is coming all the way from Los Angeles.
MacKenzie will be giving a talk at Rebecca Farm at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, before the event begins. Tickets are $25 and include drinks and some food. More information on how to RSVP can be found here: https://kalispellevents.sportngin.com/drmackenzie.
When it comes to viewing, Day said one of the reasons Volunteer Park in Lakeside is ideal is because there is no shortage of spots where people can see the races well.
“There are a lot of good spectator points in Volunteer Park,” Day said. “All the action takes place right out in front of the docks. You are able to get a good view of the race from start to finish.”
This is the last year that the Dragon Boat Festival will be run by the Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau. Beginning in 2019, the event will move across the lake to Wayfarers State Park south of Bigfork and will be run by the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce.
In a statement, Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Diane Medler said the transition was intended all along and she planned to use the additional resources for future events to draw tourists to the Flathead Valley outside of the traditional tourism season.
More information on this year’s Dragon Boat Festival, including a schedule of all the events, is on the event website at www.montanadragonboat.com. Admission is free for the public.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or email@example.com.