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Dragon Boat Festival attracts 82 teams

Haruka Sato stepped gingerly down into the dragon boat, eyeballing the water anxiously, then giggling when safely seated. When her crew was settled, the boat pushed off to the commands of "row" and "let it ride" (which means raise paddles), which...

Haruka Sato stepped gingerly down into the dragon boat, eyeballing the water anxiously, then giggling when safely seated.

When her crew was settled, the boat pushed off to the commands of "row" and "let it ride" (which means raise paddles), which were quickly translated into "kogu" and "yokoni shite" for the Japanese students on board.

Sato and 11 other students from Ami, Japan, were practicing for Saturday's Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival on a windy, gray Thursday on Barker's Island.

The students, mostly 15 years old, are part of Superior's Sister City visiting delegation. The partnership is meant to be a cultural, social and eventually economical, exchange, said city councilor Kevin Norbie.

The students have been treated to a picnic at Amnicon Falls, bowling at Village Lanes and a tour of the Brule River Fish Hatchery. But the real highlight is the dragon boat festival, the driving force behind this particular trip.

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The festival, based on an ancient Chinese tradition, is organized by the Harbortown Rotary Club of Duluth and the Superior Rotary Club. It has attracted 82 teams this year, its fifth, and has raised $500,000 for various organizations during the past four years.

Sato had never been on a boat before Thursday, but wasn't afraid.

"I can swim good," she said.

Mai Sugiura said she had seen dragon boats on TV, but had never been on one.

"It sounded exciting," she said, adding that becoming a better speaker of English was another goal of the trip.

The students are teamed with kids from their host families. Reed Whitney, who is housing two students during their five-day visit, said he enjoys learning about different cultures but that kids are the same everywhere.

"The world is not as big as it used to be," he said.

But the lake is as wet and cold as always.

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Both Sato and Sugiura came back from their practice session soaked and shivering.

Sugiura said it was hard work and "very cold, very fun."

Sato, despite initial boat anxiety, said it wasn't scary once on the water, but her arms were tired and her entire torso had been splashed.

In Japanese, she explained to an interpreter how important it was to have rhythm and row in sync with her teammates. When asked if she was ready for Saturday, in English, she replied, "No!"

Jana Hollingsworth covers education. E-mail jhollings

worth@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 394-4421, ext. 137.

If you go to the festival

The fifth annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival is held at Barker's Island tonight and Saturday. The parade of teams kicks off the festival at 5:30 p.m. today.

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Hear music by the Misora Taiko Group at 7 p.m. and the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank at 8 p.m. today. The races begin Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in Superior Bay, with a rose petal ceremony honoring those who have died of breast cancer at 3:30 p.m. Closing ceremonies are at 6 p.m.

The Barker's Island boat launch, swimming beach and fishing platform will be closed today and Saturday for the free event. Vehicular traffic on the island tonight and Saturday is limited.

Today and Saturday, the speed limit is reduced to 25 miles per hour on East Second Street from Belknap Street to 18th Avenue East; pedestrians will be allowed to cross East Second Street at Belknap Street or Ninth Avenue East.

Public parking is restricted on Barker's Island during the festival. A free shuttle to the festival operates from Mariner Mall (located at North 28th Street and Hill Avenue) parking lot. The shuttle is available on the south side of the mall, adjacent to Ember's Restaurant from 4-11:59 p.m. tonight and from 6 a.m.-9:40 p.m. Saturday. Festival-goers are encouraged to park at the mall and use the shuttle because of congestion on Barker's Island, but are asked to avoid parking near the theater or Iron River Sports.

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