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Making waves: Park Rapids dragon boat team training for 2 races

The Park Rapids Rotary Wavemakers demonstrated their dragon-boat racing skills on Thursday, June 23. Check out a short video.

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Paddling to a drum beat, the Park Rapids Rotary Wavemakers demonstrate the endurance and teamwork it takes to compete in a dragon boat festival.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise
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The Park Rapids Rotary Wavemakers demonstrated their dragon-boat racing skills on Thursday, June 23.

After a quick demo at the Heartland Park public access, they offered paddle rides and root beer floats to Tour of Minnesota cyclists.

A freewill offering was collected for 23rd Veteran ( https://23rdveteran.org) , a nonprofit organization based in Duluth that helps military veterans living with trauma.

Katie Bloomquist Freitag, one of the Rotary dragon boat co-chairs, said Thursday was a community event to welcome the 200 bikers to Park Rapids and a fundraiser for 23rd Veteran.

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On Friday, Freitag reported they served 150 root beer floats.

‘It’s all out, all the way’

The Wavemakers are competing in two races this year: The Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival (Aug. 3-6) and, for the first time ever, the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival (Aug. 26-27).

Freitag has been involved for a few years.

Training starts “as soon as the water’s warm enough, so if we fall in we won’t freeze. Seriously. We’ll paddle through the summer,” she said, typically Memorial Day through the end of August.

Freitag deferred to the team’s veteran crewmates and major sponsors: Mark Hewitt and Ed Ranson.

Hewitt recalled that the Bemidji Rotary Club visited Park Rapids and “tried to talk us into entering into the first event,” which would have been 2006.

“I remember personally thinking, ‘Well, what the heck is this all about?,’ and then next thing I know, I end up being the chairman,” he said.

Hewitt put a team together – all Rotarians – for the 2009 Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. They finished 68th out of 72 teams on their first attempt.

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“And I’m a competitive guy,” Hewitt said. “I was kinda like, ‘Ok, we have some work to do.’ We’ve had a team every year, and we finished as high as third one year, but the hardest work is recruiting people because you need 20 people that will show up.”

Ranson pointed out that the boat used on Thursday was a half-sized dragon boat, for 10 paddlers.

They practice three times per week in this “mini-dragon boat” on the Fish Hook River.

The competition boat holds 20.

“It’s more strenuous than people think,” Hewitt said of the 400-meter race course.

“It’s a sprint. It’s all out,” Ranson agreed. “It’s all out, all the way.”

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Pam Burrow, an eight-year dragon boat racing veteran, holds a specialized, carbon fiber paddle. Most importantly, it's lightweight. Previously, she raced in Washington state. This is her second season with the Park Rapids team.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

Canoeists dip the paddle into the water with long strokes, while dragon boat racers utilize a shorter stroke with a short paddle held straight up and down.

“You have to train to a different kind of paddling,” Hewitt said. “The real key is getting everybody into sync, as a rhythm.”

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The drummer pounds out the rhythm from the bow, while the steersman guides the boat at the stern.

“With a 20-person boat, you need 10 people just to lift it and put it in the water,” Hewitt said, so the Park Rapids team purchased the smaller boat about four or five years ago for training purposes. Local donors helped fund the new boat. Park Rapids Rotary sponsors the team.

“This is a big sport in Canada,” Hewitt noted.

Ransom added that the Winnipeg festival has 60 boats.

It’s good exercise and teamwork, they agree.

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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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