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More than a race: 13th annual Dragon Boat Festival was a success for teams, fans and the community

Mary Markesteyn, left, and Cathy Dorland of the Prostate Paddlers celebrate winning the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival's Gold Division on Saturday. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 2
The Prostate Paddlers celebrate on Saturday after winning the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival's Gold Division. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI—Strong winds and early rain wasn't enough to put a damper on this year's Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival, with the 13th annual event capping off with a successful Saturday.

"It was great. We had a fantastic week, and while the rain earlier canceled some of the practices, the weather ended up cooperating and we couldn't be happier," festival co-chair Rosie Berg said. "There was a little bit of shakiness out on the lake earlier, with the wind playing a factor. We had collisions and one sinking, so we made some adjustments. We reduced to 16 paddlers for some of the races and took the heads and tails off the boats. Everyone was safe, though."

Despite the early conditions, competitors say they all still had a good time.

"The wind presented a challenge for us, but it was still a ton of fun," said Cole Mack of the MIDCO Muskies, which have participated in the festival since 2010. "We have a great group of people and we have a lot of guys who always come back. It's something we meet up for every summer."

The Wesloh family, competing with the name Wesloh Five-O, also enjoyed the event and even took home some hardware.

"We've been participating here for 10 years and it's been fantastic. We won the Family Cup for the first time, too," Dave Wesloh said. "For us, this is our family reunion. I'm the only participant from Bemidji. The rest are from all over the country; they came here from Baltimore, San Antonio, Denver and Seattle."

"There's so much camaraderie between all the teams. You walk through the team village and they're playing games with each other and meeting new people," Berg said. "Our fans are great, too. It's fantastic to see the number of people who come to this event, watch the races, visit the food vendors and shop at the local businesses."

Berg also noted the important factor the festival plays in helping Bemidji-area organizations.

"All of the money that's raised during this whole week of events goes back to our local community," Berg said. "From the Beltrami County Relay For Life to other volunteer organizations that were here this week, and we couldn't be happier with that."