Flathead area businesses are looking to tap into some prosperity this year, through Dragon Boat Racing.
The Whitefish Credit Union Dragon Boat team recently met up at Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork to learn how to paddle, Dragon Boat style.
“The position for your paddle is really weird!” Cindy Coats demonstrates this “weird” paddle position, “OK – your arm goes up, you’re holding the paddle, the top part of the paddle here, and reaching forward with the paddle. Your eyes should be forward, looking at the person two rows ahead of you.” One hand is on top of the paddle, the other near the base, and your arms are supposed to be straight, lifted up, and away from your body as you reach forward.
Coats is herself on the Kalispell Lions Club team, and only learned about Dragon Boat racing recently, “I saw the first article in the paper, and I said, this sounds like a fabulous event, it’s a fundraiser for Save A Sister,” Coats said.
The event is Dragon Boat Racing to take place in September at the Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, and the Save A Sister Initiative helps women in need in the Flathead cover the cost of getting a mammogram..
Coats said each boat carries 22 people, “so you have 20 people who actually have paddles in their hands, one person at the front of the boat is the drummer, and the rudder man in the back is steering the boat.”
The Whitefish Credit Union team getting the crash-course in paddling is one of 54-teams that have signed up for Montana’s First Dragon Boat Festival. The Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau is organizing the event. Group Sales Manager Rob Brisendine with the Bureau says they originally planned for 30-teams to participate.
“Definitely has exceeded our expectations for a first year event. We had our promoter out here two weeks ago, and she said this was the most beautiful venue she had ever had the opportunity to work on,” Brisendine said, “this festival could really be something special in the future, 100 teams plus.”
He said the Bureau was looking for a way to showcase Flathead Lake when they came across Dragon Boat racing. The Festival is set for Saturday, September 8th, which is a little outside the usual, busy summer season for the Flathead.
“One thing that’s key for our efforts is to push these events out to the shoulder seasons. So, you know, we wanted to push it as far into September as we could,” Brisendine said the 1,100 paddlers participating are coming from Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Washington, Alberta, British Columbia, as well as local Montana teams. Plus, he expects more than 2,000 spectators. He says they’re looking at this event to bring at least half-a-million-dollars into the local economy with people coming from out of the area staying in hotels, going out to dinner, hitting the gas station, and shopping.
The paddlers pick up their life jackets, their paddles, and file out, two-by-two onto the dock to get into the Dragon Boat. They then strategically sit, in two’s, on the boats’ narrow wooden benches. The boat seems wobbly, and paddlers lower themselves in carefully, maintaining balance. The boat itself is 46-feet long. A painted dragons head is carved on the bow and a tail at the stern. Doug Coats is acting as the rudder man, offering on-the-water lessons to the crew.
“The draw stroke is you put the paddle in out from the boat, and you just pull the water towards you,” Coats said, “lift it up, you’re drawing – what you’re doing is you’re drawing the boat to the direction you’re paddling.”
Cindy Coats says the boats will usually have a drummer to help the crew set, and stay in rhythm.
“The whole idea is to be in synchronized paddling together so that you’re pushing your boat forward as fast as you can do. The race will be 500 meters and typically the times will be anywhere from maybe 2 minutes 20 seconds to 3 and a half minutes,” Coats said.
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival is also a fundraiser. A portion of each team’s registration costs goes to the Save A Sister Initiative, and different teams are raising additional funds for other area non-profits.