By Myers Reece, 7-23-12
||Caption: A team of Whitefish Credit Union paddlers gives power to a dragon boat on Flathead Lake during a demonstration. The first Montana Dragon Boat Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
BIGFORK – Lokita, a Chinese Water Dragon, rested comfortably on her handler’s arm and gazed back at a crowd of onlookers. Some in the crowd were focused on Lokita, while others were staring at a much larger water dragon in the background, cruising across Flathead Lake with 22 people inside it.
Lokita, who normally resides at the Animal Wonders exotic animal center in Potomac, was in the Flathead Valley for a July 19 gathering to preview September’s Montana Dragon Boat Festival.
The Sept. 8 festival is expected to draw more than 1,000 participants and thousands of spectators. It will be the first time ever Montana has hosted dragon boat races.
The July 19 event at Flathead Lake Lodge gave the press and others – including the festival’s “mascot,” Lokita – a chance to see a dragon boat in action. To demonstrate, a 22-person team from Whitefish Credit Union piled into a 46-foot, Hong Kong-style boat adorned with a dragon head at the bow and a dragon tail at the stern.
There are 54 teams signed up for the Sept. 8 races on Flathead Lake. Business officials assembled at Flathead Lake Lodge for the festival preview said they expect the September event to bring hundreds of thousands of valuable off-season dollars into the valley.
“This is going to have a huge economic impact on the valley,” said James Ness, senior vice president at Glacier Bank, adding that he’s “very proud to be part of this event.”
Glacier Bank is one of the sponsors for the Sept. 8 Montana Dragon Boat Festival, along with a lengthy list of other businesses and organizations. The title sponsor is the Flathead Community Foundation. The Montana Office of Tourism provided a grant.
The Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau is organizing the festival in partnership with Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing LLC, which produces dragon boat races around the nation. The festival will benefit a number of local organizations and causes, including the Save A Sister breast cancer awareness initiative.
According to Montana Dragon Boat Festival organizers, dragon boat racing is the eighth-fastest growing sport in the world with more than 50 million people in 63 countries participating. Rob Brisendine, group sales manager for the Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there is speculation it could become an Olympic sport.
Teams of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a “steerer” race against each other in a competition that requires honed stroke techniques and teamwork, with every paddler playing a specific role.
The Sept. 8 event at Flathead Lake Lodge will feature 54 teams and 1,100 participants from Montana, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Washington and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Brisendine says 2012 is the year of the water dragon in Chinese astrology, a good omen for the inaugural Flathead festival.
“We hope the event becomes an annual event enjoyed by locals and visitors alike,” Brisendine said.
The Sept. 8 event will also have a “Made-in-Montana” vendor showcase, which opens at 8:30 a.m. Heat races will be held from 8:30 to 4 p.m., with championship races scheduled at 4 p.m. The day also features a breast cancer survivor ceremony.
Following the races is the Flathead Lake Dragon Bash at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell. The party will feature free beverage sampling by local vendors at 5:30-6:30 p.m., a dinner at 6:30-8 p.m. and music by country group Trevor Panczak & Rough Stock from Lethbridge, Alberta at 8 p.m. to midnight.
Admission to the races is free for spectators and tickets to the bash are $35. For more information on the festival, visit www.montanadragonboat.com
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