Dragon boats are returning to the waters of Flathead Lake for the sixth summer on Sept. 9, for a weekend of family fun and friendly competition.
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival takes place in Lakeside on Sept. 9-10, bringing thousands of people to the small West Shore community to watch paddlers maneuver massive boats to the rhythm of beating drums.
Dozens of 22-person teams will propel Hong Kong-style, 42-foot boats through the clear waters, as thousands of spectators cheer from the shore and participate in various activities.
This year’s festival kicks off the first year of a new elite division of racers, according to Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau Director Diane Medler, called the Rocky Mountain Championship Division.
The KCVB, which organizes the festival every year, invited six teams with competitive times from around North America to participate in the elite division, where they will compete in 200- and 500-meter races, with an optional 2,000-meter exhibition race.
Medler said the six teams will compete with the rest of the teams throughout the weekend, and that the top eight teams with the best times will then move on to the championship round for the Rocky Mountain Championship.
The winners get their names on a plaque under a handmade wooden paddle trophy, which will stay at Kalispell Regional Medical Center on display, Medler said.
Another new addition this year is what the KCVB is calling the world’s first paddleboard boxing tournament, during which boxers in men’s and women’s divisions will face off on big floating boards on the water, wearing huge, oversized boxing gloves.
The weekend kicks off on Friday, Sept. 8 with a concert at the Lakeside Town Center on Stoner Loop, where the Bad Larrys will provide live music and food and beverages available for purchase.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, races begin at 8:30 a.m. The new Tail-End of Summer Party, with live music and other fun, begins at 1:30 p.m. and runs until 5 p.m. There are free kids’ activities on shore during the weekend, as well as a free kids’ dragon boat race on Sunday, sponsored by Kalispell KIDDS, at noon.
Admission and parking are free, and there will be food trucks and Montana craft beer available for purchase. The KCVB asks that people attending the festival please not bring dogs or outside alcohol.
More volunteers are also needed, according to the KCVB, especially for the team-marshaling area, which is reportedly one of the most fun jobs available.
For more information, call the KCVB at (406) 758-2809 or visit www.kalispellevents.sportngin.com.