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Ford column: Dragon boat festival coming to High Rock Lake

SALISBURY — Dragon boats are coming to High Rock Lake this summer.
The first Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival is set for Aug. 2, and the chamber is recruiting teams of 20 people from businesses and community organizations.
The chamber’s membership committee was brainstorming ways to raise money for small business programs when members hit on dragon boats and High Rock Lake, chamber President Elaine Spalding said.
“One of the goals of our board is to look for things to do to highlight all areas of Rowan County,” Spalding said.
The dragon boat festival will showcase High Rock Lake and emphasize the county’s abundant water supply and outdoor recreation opportunities, she said. The race will be part of a day-long lakeside party complete with food vendors, games and more.
Dragon boat racing is a 2,300-year-old tradition with roots in ancient China. Forty-five foot sleek boats donned with dragon heads, tails and scales seat 20 paddlers. A drummer sits in the bow pounding the drum to the beat of the paddlers’ stroke, and a steersperson stands in the stern guiding the team down the race course.
High Five Dragon Boat based in Tampa will put on the event and provide paddles, life vests, boats and steerspersons, as well as one training session the week before the event. No rowing experience is necessary, said Christine Canevari, High Five director of marketing.
“In fact the less they know, the better because they will have no preconceived notion about what to do,” Canevari said.
Individuals and teams from Salisbury and Rowan County and the surrounding region will compete from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Shrine Club on High Rock Lake.
“The Rowan Chamber is excited to bring this fun event to our community,” said Ann Pressly, chairwoman of the Dragon Boat Festival Committee. “It highlights our quality of life with abundant water resources, friendly people and unique team-building opportunities for businesses.”
A limited number of sponsorship opportunities are available.
There are more than 100 dragon boat festivals across the country, with more than 60 million participants worldwide. The local event is expected to attract co-ed teams from corporations, public service groups, small businesses, high schools, colleges and universities.   
Organizers also expect a handful of dragon boat club teams from the Charlotte and Raleigh areas to travel to Rowan County for the weekend to participate. The Rowan Convention and Visitors Bureau is working on packages to welcome the clubs.
Each team has to provide 20 paddlers with at least eight women and a drummer. Each team will race in three heats on a 350-meter straight course.
“It’s really a great way to bring the community together,” Canevari said. “It’s a new way to bring people to High Rock Lake.”
For companies, dragon boat racing provides a unique team-building experience, she said.
“They have to work together for a common goal,” Canevari said. “There is no hierarchy on the boat.”
The CEO could be paddling next to someone from the mail room, she said. “On Monday, the employees will be over the moon about how much fun they had, and they can’t wait to do it again,” she said.
Canevari said she hopes to have 20 teams in the Rowan event, which she said would be a small but successful inaugural festival. High Five will bring six dragon boats.
High Five loves the venue and plans to continue partnering with the chamber at the Shrine Club for several years, she said. By year three they hope to have 40 teams, and the festival could eventually attract 50, she said.
“We wouldn’t take the risk if we didn’t see the long-term potential and if we didn’t love the venue,” Canevari said.
Entering the race costs between $650 and $1,500 per team, depending on the category.

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