Dragons in the waterThe dragons are back. They can be found paddling the waters off Barker’s Island this week preparing for the ninth annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The dragons are back. They can be found paddling the waters off Barker’s Island this week preparing for the ninth annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival.
Nearly 90 teams will compete in dragon boat races Saturday. The event, helmed by the Superior Rotary, Superior Sunrise Centennial Rotary Club and Harbortown Rotary of Duluth, raises money for the clubs as well as the SMDC breast program while providing free family entertainment.
“It’s the ultimate team sport,” said Megan Kress, team trainer for the event. “Every seat is equally important. There is no room for superstars.”
Bulging muscles are not required; athletic prowess will only get teams so far.
“It’s all about can you listen, can you take direction and can you work together as a team,” said Krisi Patterson, co-captain of the UWS Yellowjackets team. One person out of synch can throw the whole boat off stride, she said.
As they prepared for their first ride in a dragon boat Monday, the Pope’s Paddlers were nervous, but excited.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all summer,” said Vickie Owens. “I’ve wanted to do this for years.”
The team from Cathedral of Christ the King Church is filled with novices. Their goal isn’t lofty, said member Jim Russ with a smile, it’s “the finish line.”
They wore life jackets as they learned the different paddle strokes, but team members joked that they wouldn’t need them.
“We walk on water,” said Lynne Kapalin.
For the employees of Charter Films, the festival is a chance to gather with their families and cheer their two teams – the Charter Challengers and the Visual Defects.
“We’re expecting tons of fun,” said Judy Aspling, captain of the Visual Defects.
Charter Films is also a sponsor of the event.
“It’s one of those good old-fashioned family deals worth putting some effort and money into,” Aspling said.
Participants say the races are exhilarating.
“It’s just plain fun,” said Cheryl Westman, a co-captain of the Douglas County team. “I enjoy the competition part. Your adrenaline goes right through the roof when you get in the boat.”
“I’m not a competitive person,” she said. “But holy cow, that horn goes off and I’m in it to win this baby.”
Four teams compete in each heat, with the fastest two moving on until the four fastest teams race for the top spot in the gold (fastest) silver (medium speed) and bronze (slower) divisions.
Douglas County’s new administrator, Andy Lisak, has been rowing with his family’s team, Team Stariha, since the races began.
““It’s a blast,” he said of the competition. And, he added, “It only hurts for two and a half minutes.”
This year, Lisak plans to spend all day on Barker’s Island. Along with rowing in the “boiler room” section of Team Stariha, he is also an alternate for the county’s team and the Pope’s Paddlers.
Another familiar face at the competition will be retired UWS Chancellor Julius Erlenbach. Patterson said she shot him an e-mail right after his retirement notice came out, asking if he would still be their team drummer.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Erlenbach said. “It’s great.”
Along with the Yellowjackets, four athletic teams from UWS are competing this year –men’s soccer, women’s soccer, cross country and volleyball – despite the fact that students are moving onto campus this week.
“Last year we were given the opportunity to try this as a team bonding experience,” said UWS women’s soccer coach Melissa Nelmark. Paddling alongside members of the men’s soccer team, they placed third in the silver division last year. Saturday, minus the men, they’re aiming for first.
“We come to win,” said UWS sophomore Mallory Engen.
Another team, the Keyport Krew, is focusing on a different goal. The paddlers placed seventh overall in the past two years, but found even greater success in the fundraising arena. The team from Keyport Lounge and Liquor collected more than $22,000 last year, earning them the top slot and the crystal dragon trophy.
“We were pretty proud to get it last year,” said team manager Connie Austin.
The Krew spends all year raising money for the festival through concerts, dinners, meat raffles, silent auctions and even a golf scramble.
“We feel that it is for a great cause,” Austin said. “All of us are touched by someone who has breast cancer.”
The festival is one of the biggest fundraisers for the SMDC breast program, according to Charity Smith of the SMDC Foundation.
“It’s a huge boost for breast cancer research,” she said. Last year, despite the shaky economy, they received $80,000 from the event.
“It goes to show you people will still give to causes they believe in,” Smith said.
Funds raised this year are earmarked for the purchase and installation of a digital mammography machine for SMDC Superior.
The festival brings thousands of people to Barker’s Island to compete and have fun.
Free entertainment starts Friday afternoon, with the team parade, music and fireworks at dusk. Saturday the family fun runs all day long, from the 8 a.m. starting gun to the final heat at 5:15 p.m.
Don’t be afraid of the crowds, said Westman, although she suggested parking at the Mariner Mall and taking the shuttle bus to the island.
“It’s crazy down there but it really is a good time,” Westman said.
The vendors are great; so is the entertainment. But the best part is seeing the dragons fly across the water.
“Even just being down there with people and teams, there’s a feeling, a buzz in the air,” Westman said.
And the final racers are so in tune, she said, it gives her goosebumps.