BIGFORK – After winds and waves on Flathead Lake swamped several boats and capsized another during training sessions Friday, it was a pretty easy call when bad weather returned Sunday afternoon during the championship round of the Montana Dragon Boat Festival.
An “overwhelming majority” of team captains voted to bring the races to an otherwise premature end rather than see if they could wait out the weather, according to Diane Medler, director of the Kalispell Visitor and Convention Bureau.
“It turned out to be a wise decision,” Medler added. After gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded in various divisions based on average times during the first two to three rounds, “the skies opened up and we got rain, thunder and lightning,” she said.
It was an inauspicious end to an otherwise very successful second year of dragon boat racing on Flathead.
While organizers will analyze data to get a more accurate count, they believe more than 8,000 people took in the races at Flathead Lake Lodge.
That includes approximately 2,000 competitors on more than 90 22-person teams.
The biggest crowds were on Saturday, when the weather was beautiful.
“We’re confident we had well over 8,000 people,” Medler said.
A local team won one championship in races otherwise dominated by out-of-state and Canadian teams after it was decided to use average times from the earlier rounds to determine placings.
The MAC Fa’asaulala team from the Montana Athletic Club of Bigfork took first in the Recreation Division.
CDBC Crew Yahoo of Calgary claimed the Competitive Division championship, followed by Team Skittles of Long Beach, Calif., and Red Eyed Yahoos of Calgary.
In the Recreation Division, MAC Fa’asaulala was followed by the Destiny Dragons of the Tacoma, Wash., Dragon Boat Association, and Team ID of Lethbridge, Alberta. Less than a second separated the Bigfork team from the Tacoma paddlers.
Red Angels of Calgary took the Women’s Division, edging Golden Dragons of Portland, Ore., and Abreast in the Rockies of Nelson, British Columbia.
Sistership Calgary won the Breast Cancer Survivor Memorial race, defeating Abreast in the Rockies, Dragon Divas of St. Paul, Minn., and Abreast of ’bridge from Lethbridge.
The decision to halt the races on Sunday came after winds and waves swamped several boats and capsized one on Friday.
Dragon boats don’t sink, but submerge just below the surface if they take on water. Competitors remained in the boats and were towed to shore, Medler said.
Paddlers in the boat that capsized in a wave were all pulled into rescue boats and transported to shore. All competitors wear life jackets.
“It’s why we have the training sessions,” Medler said, “and everyone (in the capsized boat) knew to locate their seat partner and stay with the boat.”