The Grand will be taken over by dragon boat racers this weekend
Wednesday, Aug. 31 — It’s not a rain dance: It's the sound of 18 paddlers in Taiwanese-style boats, moving swiftly down the Grand River to the beat of a drummer pounding out a cadence in the inaugural Capital City Dragon Boat Race.
The event, set for Labor Day weekend, is part of a conservation and restoration effort for Lansing’s waterfront and coincides with the Michigan Mosaic Music Festival.
Julie Powers, director of Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, said dragon boat racing is the fastest growing water sport in the country right now, and it doesn’t take any special skills to participate.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” she said, when she was first approached about holding the event.“I Googled it,” she said, and realized it was appropriate for what the organization wanted to accomplish.
“It’s very, very popular,” she said, adding they’ve already got two local teams involved.Emergent Bio Solutions and the Lansing Derby Vixens are putting together teams, and Powers said she’s helping put together another women’s team.She said the Vixens players just finished a successful roller derby season and are usually more than willing to give back to the community in their off-time.
“The average age in the one boat is 45,” Powers said. There are also a couple of teams of college students.“This is absolutely as diverse as you get,” Powers added.
When it comes to skill levels, there are none necessary.The event’s webpage has a full description of how to put a team together, including where everyone should sit.
Powers said the 40-foot long boats will have experts on board, and everyone will be required to wear life-jackets, regardless of experience.The event is supported by the American Dragon Boat Racing Association, and there will be experienced sternsmen on each boat.
Knowing how fast the sport is growing, Powers said they have planned to be able to either expand or contract the number of boats they need as well.They still have room for a few more able-bodied paddlers, Powers said.
The best thing about the sport, Powers said, is that it is a team event and it requires everyone on the team to work together.From the drummer at the front of the boat, keeping rhythm for the paddlers, to the flag grabber at the back of the boat, all 20 to 24 people in the boat have a job to do.
Years ago, Powers said the Grand River was the site of much environmental waste dumping; over the past four decades the water quality has improved.Events like the Capital City Dragon Boat Race will help continue preservation and conservation efforts to restore the native plants and the waterfront, she said.
The event is planned rain or shine. Boats will take off from the Lansing City Market and course their way 300 meters north to Adado Riverfront Park. Powers said the best place to view the event is from the Shiawassee Street Bridge.
Visitors to the Michigan Mosaic Music Festival, held along the banks of the Grand River will have the opportunity to enjoy the race at the same time, Powers said. Teams will practice on Saturday, and the race begins at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.
She’s not betting on a winner, but she said she has her eye on the women’s team.“I think all the macho, macho men will get their butts kicked by the women.”