You never would have known many of those participating in the third-annual Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival here Saturday were new to the world of paddling.
But with each of the six teams boasting both seasoned veterans and rookie competitors, it appeared all were in the same boat and competing on a level playing field.
For hours on end, the groups of paddlers from both sides of the border glided swiftly through the waters of the upper Rainy River with mechanical precision.
However, it was “Smokey’s Bears” (MNR) who emerged victorious after beating defending champs “Dragon’s Breath” (Fort Frances Dental Centre) in a rematch of last year’s final.
“Smokey’s Bears” captain Karen Dykxhoom said although this was her first year participating in the festival, she already is looking forward to next year.
“It’s really fun to be out there racing,” she enthused, noting the variety of businesses and community groups involved made the event worthwhile.
“All of the teams participating were great,” Dykxhoom said.
“Everyone was willing to help out and work together with other teams—it wasn’t cutthroat, which was really nice to see.
“There was definitely some team-building out there today and now we have this trophy to symbolize that,” she added, hoisting the tournament’s brand-new hardware.
“We will definitely be back to reclaim our title,” Dykxhoom pledged.
Although Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce manager Annely Armstrong-Thorstad conceded the festival was short on teams, down from 13 last year and nine in 2012, she hailed the event as being successful in other ways.
“Overall, I think it went really well,” she remarked.
“There was so much build-up after postponing the event on July first [due to flooding],” she added.
“We had so much support and all of these extra teams that wanted to come on,” Armstrong-Thorstad said.
“But in the last couple of weeks, we had nice weather and teams started dropping like flies because [members] had other commitments.
“Last week we were up to 11 teams, then dropped back down to six—it was just crazy,” she noted
Despite the lower turnout, Armstrong-Thorstad said the local dragon boat club’s new equipment, recently-launched website, and newfound charitable foundation as symbols of a good season overall.
“We laid a lot of the groundwork and it was a learning experience for our board,” she remarked.
“The festival is only one thing that the club does— it is only one day in the year life of the club,” she stressed.
“Now our focus is building the club up so we don’t lose momentum in the winter before we start planning for next year.”
Club president Jenny Greenhalgh deemed Saturday’s festival “amazing,” noting that the hundreds of people on hand throughout the day served as an indicator of its success.
“We were really concerned because it wasn’t July 1 and we weren’t sure how well it would turn out,” she admitted.
“But it was great,” She enthused. “We had lots of people join in and we had lots of spectators who came down to watch the boats.”
“I really think the community came together once again and that is something we can build on year after year.”
Although costs associated with hiring “22 Dragons” from Montreal to run the races here were high, Armstrong-Thorstad noted any proceeds raised from Saturday’s festival will be donated to a charity chosen by club members at a later date.
“This event has the potential to bring people together,” Greenhalgh noted.
“You learn to work with your contemporaries and it brings out all sorts of hidden talents in people.
“But more than all of that, it is an opportunity for tourism to grow and an opportunity to put us on the map,” she reasoned.
“We can really grow this to be an international event and hopefully in time, both communities will benefit from it financially [in addition to] the fun and exercise.”
Those interested in joining the Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club are welcome to drop by the Sorting Gap Marina each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, call the Chamber office at 274-5773.