The rhythmic drumbeats spurring on the paddlers will be heard once again when the 17th annual ATB Financial Lethbridge Rotary Dragon Boat Festival returns to Henderson Lake.
The event has come a long way from its humble beginnings when Lethbridge Rotarians came up with the idea for a fundraiser featuring the ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing. This year the festival, which takes place June 22-24, will feature 70 teams, including entries from Saskatchewan, B.C. and Montana. In all, there will be 33 out-of-town teams.
“I can’t imagine the original Rotarians ever envisioning it growing this big from the 17 teams on a windy weekend in June in 2002,” said Karen Johnson, who has been involved with the festival for about 10 years, serving as race chair for most of that time.
The festival racing lineup includes 43 mixed teams, 25 women’s teams and two youth teams.
The event has become a popular team-building exercise for local businesses.
“It’s a really great experience for corporate teams,” said Johnson.
The festival is also a great experience for spectators because Henderson Lake offers an ideal venue from which to watch the races.
“The venue is probably better than most places I’ve ever been because you can see the races from all around the lake,” Johnson noted.
Calgary has a race course that is “very technically sound,” Johnson added, “but it’s really hard to watch the races” because of the lack of good vantage points.
In Lethbridge, “we’re very lucky to have a venue such as this.”
The festival has also grown into a full weekend of family-friendly fun with the addition of live music, food and merchandise vendors, and a KidZone offering activities for the youngsters. The result is a true festival atmosphere that prompts many of the out-of-town paddlers to bring their families “because there is so much going on,” said Johnson.
Of course, an event of that magnitude requires an army of volunteers and Johnson said organizers are fortunate to have people who willingly give of their time every year to help make the festival a success.
“There’s no way we could do it if we didn’t have all these great volunteers who, time and time again, come out to help,” Johnson said.
There’s always room for more volunteers. Anyone interested in being part of the festival’s volunteer crew can contact Sienna by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The demand for volunteers is especially heavy the weekend of the festival because it coincides with the final days of the inaugural Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open, a Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada event.
The success of the Lethbridge festival has helped grow the sport of dragon boating in the area by giving local paddlers an opportunity to go against better competition. Lethbridge has a travelling team which attended the World Masters Games in New Zealand, and team will be going to Australia in November for the Pan Pacific Games.
“There’s now a great future in the sport,” said Johnson, noting the opportunities have come about “because this event is so well attended and well respected in the dragon boating community.”
For more about the Lethbridge Dragon Boat Festival, visit the website at https://lethbridgedragonfest.ca/.