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Dragon boat festival to have a twist

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The seventh-annual International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival will hit the water here on Saturday, June 30—but with a twist this year.

Unlike previous years, the boats will be launched from both Fort Frances and International Falls.

Each side also will stage their own festival, with the money raised to go to charities in their respective communities.

“It gives an opportunity for everybody to participate,” said Greg Thorstad, president of the club's board of directors.

“That bridge is really crazy on the weekend,” he noted.

Thorstad added that to their knowledge, the festival will be the only one in the world hosting races with boats that are launched from two countries at the same time.

Dragon boat teams will meet in the middle of the Rainy River before racing down the 300-metre course to the finish line.

Five teams have signed up for the festival so far, with a few more expected to join, Thorstad said.

In addition to the races, the festival also will have vendors and a “Duelling Dragons Tug of War.”

The latter features two teams of eight people who sit on opposite ends of a dragon boat facing inward, with paddles ready.

When the whistle goes, each team will paddle as hard as they can to try to push the other team back past a marker set up on a dock.

“The water is just flying," said Thorstad. "It's the funnest part of the whole day!”

All funds raised from festival registrations and other activities will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society's breast cancer cause.

There also will be a flower ceremony in remembrance of those who have passed, as well as those who have survived breast cancer.

“That's a huge, very emotional deal," noted Thorstad. "It's really, really cool.”

The club held a fundraiser barbecue at Safeway back on May 18 to help raise funds for the upcoming festival, which can cost up to $10,000 per year to stage.

Annely Armstrong-Thorstad, the club's head coach, said members of the team pay for everything out-of-pocket. They even pay a little more so kids aged 12-17 can paddle free of charge.

“Our insurances are pretty high," she noted. "We've paid a little bit more so that we can have kids 12 and up have a class.”

The club also volunteers for other groups in the community, whether it's an event, fundraiser, or if someone is just short on volunteers.

“This barbecue we own," Armstrong-Thorstad said about the industrial-sized grill outside Safeway. ”We'll come and set up anywhere you want.

“It's a chance for us to get together and do stuff off of the boat,” she noted.

This year will mark the fourth summer for the club's competitive team. Within that span, it has travelled to races in both Canada and the U.S.

This season, the team will be heading to Green Bay, Superior, and Minocqua, Wis. while the club's recreational team will go to the dragon boat festival in Bemidji, Mn., where it has won the last couple of years.

The competitive team also will be travelling to Louisville, Ky. in the fall.

Armstrong-Thorstad said the team is one of the fastest in Canada.

“We're only four years in," she noted. "That's pretty good. We're pretty proud of that.”

The club's competitive team was created in 2014 after people showed interest in wanting to do more with dragon boating than just paddle around the festival, she added.

“They started to realize this was a sport," Armstrong-Thorstad remarked. "They wanted to be able to travel and race.”

Thorstad said the team is hoping to qualify for the Club Crew World Championships next year.

“We're super-excited," he enthused. "The club is growing well.”

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