Montana Dragon Boat Festival, Flathead Lake, Montana
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival takes place on Flathead Lake at the beginning of September each year. Dragon Boat racing began over 2,300 years ago, and is a growing sport that is fun for the entire family! This popular event has become one of the most watched spectator sports in Montana. People travel from all over to participate and watch the fun!
Participating by jumping on a team and being in the race is even more fun than watching the event! While there is a lot more to it than just paddling, if you aren’t too serious about winning, you don’t need to practice a lot to learn how to do it!
Teams of 20 paddlers (with at least 8 females), and a drummer, line up on the lake and race their boats down to the finish line 5 teams at a time. The person in the back who steers the boat is provided for each team by the race. We had a different person steering each race. The boat is also provided by the race. There is a mandatory team practice a few days before the race so that everyone can get an idea what they need to do. During that practice, (if you haven’t practiced before), there will be a “coach” there who will teach you the commands, how to sit in the boat, and the paddling technique you need to learn to be successful in the races. Things like reaching your paddle forward, and watching the right person so that the entire boat stays in tune are critical to winning. The drummer will be the lead person, and it is best if they are smaller as they sit on the front of the boat on a tiny seat!
For those who join a team and participate in the event, plan on getting wet, and know that paddling is a lot of work so you do want to be in fairly good fitness. Enough to paddle hard during the race time.
When I participated on a team in 2013, my team only attended the one mandatory team practice. And to be honest, half of my team missed that practice. On the first race day, you get to race twice. During our first race, we came in last out of five teams. I would say this is because my team was not in unison, and a lot of people were distracted and not even paddling. We were just there to have fun. But on the second race, we focused, paddled hard, stayed in unison, had a plan, and didn’t stop paddling until it was announced we were in first place!! I was so proud of my team!! I was the drummer for the team, which in my opinion was the easy part! Paddling is a lot more work! (Watch the 2013 video of one of our races here.)
You can plan on having to park on the north side of Bigfork, and having to catch a bus to get to the race on the lake. Parking at the lake is reserved for VIP — including event sponsors.
This is a fun event whether you participate or sit on the side of the lake and enjoy the sun. There are many vendors to shop from and plenty of space along the lake to enjoy the race.
I am currently working on getting a team together for race day (September 12 & 13, 2015)! Hope to see you all out at the Montana Dragon Boat Festival!!
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog