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Dragon boats a ‘bucket-list thing’

Published 8:35am Thursday, July 31, 2014

Annual competition returns to Riverfest

It is not everyday that someone gets the chance to pilot a 2,000-pound teak dragon boat down the St. Joseph River.

“It’s one of those things you just have to experience,” said Lisa Croteau, Niles Main Street DDA program manager. “It’s a bucket-list thing.”

Those wanting to check the dragon boat off their bucket list can do so during the Niles Riverfest’s annual Dragon Boat Race at 8 a.m. Saturday at Riverfront Park in Niles.

Dragon boat teams consist of 18 paddlers and one drummer. All participants must be at least 14 years of age.

The race consists of several heats where two dragon boats race down the river for the best time. The times from each heat are averaged to determine the fastest two teams that will race head-to-head for the championship.

Awards will be presented immediately upon completion of the event.

Several seats are still available for those wanting to race on teams that have already been established. Croteau said people need to show up by 8 a.m. Saturday to reserve a spot for free on those teams. People can contact Croteau at (269) 687-4332 to sign up in advance.

Those interested in starting their own team should contact Croteau as soon as possible. The cost is $250 to field a team.

This year, the owner of the two boats, Sue Smith, will be celebrating her 70th birthday. Croteau said she would be at the race.

Also, longtime Iowa sternsmen Doug McCallum and Omer Vahle will return to keep the boats going in the right direction. They’ve been helping out for at least the past eight years.

Dragon Boat festivities begin at 9 p.m. Friday with the Awakening of the Dragon ceremony — the prelude to the dragon boat races. This original Chinese ritual includes dotting the eyes of the dragon’s head on each boat. The ceremony is conducted to cleanse and bless the area of the competition, the competitors and their boats. It also gives the boats and its crew the strength of the Dragon and the blessing of the Goddess of the Sea.

There will be a practice session for all registered teams following the ceremony.


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