9th Annual Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival

by | Jul 5, 2023 | High Rock Lake, Uncategorized

A Dragon Boat Festival??? What exactly is going on at High Rock Lake on July 22?

Back in 2013, the Rowan Chamber of Commerce began a new action plan to provide more value-added benefits to its members. The Chamber wanted to serve all parts of Rowan County and generate some much-needed fundraising activities for its small business programs and services. The Chamber’s Marketing Committee’s established the criteria — something unique, fun in the summer, something fresh other than the normal golf tourney. Oh, and how about bringing in outside visitors to make the event impact our local economy in a positive way? New Chamber President Elaine Spalding reached out to other Chambers of Commerce across the country to see what a great corporate event would look like. After researching potential opportunities, the committee selected the Dragon Boat Festival for the Rowan Chamber, the fastest-growing water sport in the U.S.!

“This is our ninth Dragon Boat Festival. This year would have been our tenth anniversary, but COVID halted the 2020 event. We are building momentum each year, and we are excited to present our 2023 festival to our growing community. We have added a few new components to enhance the spectator experience and will keep coming up with fresh ideas, thanks to our diverse committee members,” said Spalding.

The inaugural year, 16 teams competed; now the teams are set at 30 and sold out! The competition is a cross-section of Rowan Chamber members from large companies to family-owned storefronts and community organizations such as our Young Professionals network group sponsored by Johnson Concrete and Cloninger Dealerships. Corporate team building is a huge component of this event; Freightliner returns with TWO teams.

Young Pros paddling their dragon boat.

“The annual Dragon Boat Festival is something the community looks forward to each year. We strive to bring about positive, family-oriented activities, while incorporating our county business partners to make a positive economic impact. This event is diverse and appeals to many market segments – we have a beautiful setting, outdoor competition, food, local beverages to enjoy and entertainment,” said Spalding.

Elaine Spalding speaking into a microphone.


The Dragon Boat Festival is organized by a committee which is comprised of several Rowan small businesses, led by Daniel Matangira, Rhema Transportation. “Getting the opportunity to work alongside hard-working individuals many of whom are entrepreneurs, and they certainly know how to organize and deliver a special product,” he saydl “That is what the festival is all about. Engaging our diverse community to try something new and feel welcomed.”

Rowan County’s private and public business sectors are represented well at these planning meetings such as Rowan County Corrections, the City of Salisbury, High Rock Lake Association, N.C. REALTORS, Trinity Oaks/Lutheran Services Carolinas, F&M Bank, and more.

A man and woman wearing yellow shirts and khaki hats are smiling for the camera.
F&M Bank Team all in red shirts.

 “Our festival committee is adamant about a good selection of food and beverage options for our spectators, and we work to make these offerings as varied as our team names,” said Matangira. Vendors include Salisbury favorites Cheerwine and New Sarum Brewing to Dolce Italian Ice, High Rock Kettle Corn, Kona Ice, Lobster Dogs, The Hot Dog Shack, The Smoke Pit, Som’s Teriyaki Chicken, United Beverage, and Windham Springs Vineyard. “There is something for everyone, so come hungry,” he said.

The Hot Dog Shack Food Truck

Did you know you can shop at the Dragon Boat Festival? Salisbury retailer Backcountry and Beyond will have their mobile store open for business just in case you forgot your sunglasses, hat, sun shirt, or something you didn’t know you really needed for a comfortable day at the lake. Communities in Schools, Food Lion Feeds, High Rock Lake Association, Novant Health Foundation, and American Cancer Society’s Men Wear Pink campaign to support two local men in their fundraising efforts. Tami Pope Originals will feature her recycled vinyl records repurposed into bird feeders, garden décor or snack bowls.

High Rock Lake Association Group in all white tshirts, wearing medals.


Community events happen almost every weekend in the region, and the key to growth and longevity is its supporters. The Rowan Chamber has a variety of sponsor partners. Gold sponsors are Hotwire Communications, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, and Trinity Oaks Lutheran Services Carolinas.

A large group of people in purple tshirts representing Novant Health, flexing their muscles for the camera.
A woman in pink and another woman in purple are holding a gold cup award. Corporate Health Cup.

Silver event sponsors include Catawba College, Food Lion, Miller Ferry Volunteer Fire Department, New Sarum Brewing, Rhema Transportation & Cardinal Tire, Rowan Shrine Club, The Salisbury Post, and WLJZ 107.1 FM.

Many of the Bronze Sponsors will be represented well by their team entries: Duke Energy, F&M Bank, Southern Power, State Employees Credit Union GQ, The Fish Bowl, and WSAT 101.7 FM.

Cardinal Tire

Support comes in all levels and a special thanks goes to community sponsors: Cube Yadkin Generation, Godley’s Garden Center & Nursery, Healthcare Management Consultants, High Rock Lake Association, N.C. REALTORS, and Walser Technology Group.


The Rowan Shrine Club, Oasis Shriners is known for what they do on behalf of children in our community. “It’s All About the Kids” is their motto. But on July 22, it’s all about Dragon Boat racing and community pride.

“The Rowan Shrine Club looks forward to this event every year. It gives the entire county a chance to see what a great place we have,” said Glenn Taylor, Managing Director.

“We do have the perfect venue and partnership with the Rowan Shrine Club as it has it all — great lake access, plenty of space, and visitor parking. It’s a great community event, with a dozen food trucks, sampling of our local craft beer and wines, like New Sarum, seeing our local corporate CEOs and county commissioners come out and meet their constituents and enjoy the day,” said Spalding.

Not only do the Shriners provide a valuable event location but also the necessary safety and starter boats for event operations, and the American Flag to kick off the day’s festivities with the National Anthem. The Oasis Shriners have certainly embraced the festival. And if you are out, stop by the always happening United Beverage beer garden. It is manned by the Shriners. Need I say more?


Miller Ferry Volunteer Fire Department is on site and will oversee all instances on land and water. Joining the patrol will be Rowan County Sheriff, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and Liberty Volunteer Fire Department.

Chief Josh Fox will lead a team of more than 25 emergency professionals and will be ready for any incident. “The biggest piece of advice that I can give to the competitors and spectators alike is hydrate. It’s a long day, likely hot, and the competition is fierce. Those paddlers need to drink lots of water days leading up to race day. We will be on watch for the 4,000 plus on site, we will have all hands on deck as our firehouse still needs to look after another 5,000 Rowan residents in our purview,” said Chief Fox.   


New for this year, WLJZ 107.1 FM, the community voice, will broadcast the competition live as well as stream through the Rowan Chamber’s website. “If you can’t make it out to the festival, or are watching by boat, you can still feel like you are a part of the festival and listen to all of the action by tuning in,” shared Keith ‘Synphany’ Anderson, Director of Multimedia and Digital Engagement for Livingstone College and Director of WLJZ 107.1 FM.

“We will be playing music from all genres, and you don’t want to miss the lunch break show with the over-the-top team Drummer (mascot) parade,” he said. Mz. Good Newz, Station Manager, will join the race day festival broadcast effort to keep spectators and competitors alike informed of the happenings from what’s hot from the food vendors and cold from the beverage and shaved ice vendors, and lots more.

Doug Rice, president Performance Racing Network and resident of Rowan County, will again call the race action for those viewing and listening. Last year we heard from several of the attendees, that listening to Doug Rice call the boat races was like being at a NASCAR race, just more relaxing with a lake breeze.

Group of people in dragon boat race paddling.


Dragon Boat racing dates to back to to a 2,300+ year tradition, from Ancient China with 45-foot sleek boats donned with dragon heads, tails, and scales that each seat 20 paddlers. Colorful drummers sit 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 water racecourse.

A group of dragon boats paddling in a race.

Pam Am operates the event, bringing in all boats, safety equipment needs, life jackets, paddles, and the steersperson. Local teams just need to bring in man/woman power and fellowship. Teams will learn how to paddle during an introductory practice session (included in team registration fee). Each team provides 20 paddlers; a minimum of eight must be female, and a drummer. On race day, each team will compete in three heats on a 350-meter straight course. At the end of the day, Olympic style Gold/Silver/Bronze medals will be presented in the top three divisions and only Gold in the fourth division.

Dragon Boat paddling to its place on the lake to race.


“The Chamber’s Dragon Boat Committee has worked so hard on this year’s event. We are excited to announce that we are SOLD OUT on teams. Please plan to join us on July 22 for a FUN day on High Rock Lake!” said Spalding.

Festival Chair Matangira’s team, the Gator Bites, has won three out of the last four outings, and they are back with determination and vengeance. “Mother Nature worked against us last year, and she took the win from us. So, the Gator Bites have worked harder to get in shape and plan to record some speed in each heat this year to establish which team IS the best Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Team around. We want that championship medal and bragging rights!” said Matangira.

Teams include: Anchor Downs (Anchor’s Up), Catawba College (Team Catawba), Charlotte Fury, Cloninger Ford (In It To Win It), Daimler Trucks  (Western Star Dragons & Freightliner Fury), F&M Bank (Strokes of Genius), Rhema Transportation/Cardinal Tire (Gator Bites), Healing Dragons of Charlotte, Hot Wire (Fiber Dragons), Goodnight & Sons (It’s Pool Time), Inc., Johnson Concrete (Lily Dippers), Food Lion (Lion’s Pride), New Sarum,  Lake James Healing Dragons, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center (Novant Health ROW’an Knights), Organized Chaos,  Power Curbers Companies, LLC (Power Paddlers), RCCC (Navigators), Rowan County (Rowan Oar-iginals), Salisbury Pride (Paddle with Pride), State Employees Credit Union (Shore Thing), Salisbury Rowan Runners (SRR Wave Runners), Town of Spencer (Wave Runners),  The Fish Bowl (Dragon Fish), Trinity Oaks (Dragon Slayers), VA Employee Association (Civil Service Sailors), White Rabbit Cocktail Parlour (Downtown Strokers), Raleigh Dragon Boat Club (RDBC Relentless) and YMCA (Ester’s Y-Knots).

A group of people all in orange tshirts . A woman is holding a bunch of medals.
Food Lion is represented by this group in blue and red shirts. All are wearing medals.


Teams reserve practice sessions either on Thursday or Friday late afternoon/early evening prior to the competition. On race day, at the first session, some teams may even adjust some paddlers to different positions for better strength and control. The second session is the set-up for the qualifying to stage for the races. Then it’s full-on in the third session: one drum beat equals one stroke, all in sync (hopefully).

“This competition is legit, it’s physical, fun, and yet relaxing. Families come out to cheer on their favs. During our off time, we do other teambuilding activities and even have drawings for prizes throughout the day within our team tent,” shared team captain Janet Ruffin, Your Rowan Attractions blogger.

Two women wearing tie dye shirts gesturing with their thumbs to their back while looking away from the camera at High Rock Lake. A dragon boat with the number 2 is just coming into frame on the lower right.
Group of people in dragon boat race paddling.


“Competition is not just what is happening with the paddlers; it’s also the selection of the team drummer, the smallest teammate you can find with a great sense of humor, and rhythm helps. As a team we decide on the name of the team, color, and design of the tee shirts, and the most important decision, what does our drummer dress up as? Last year our teeny, tiny drummer dressed as the crash test dummy. Not sure how we are going to up that for this year,” said Ruffin.

Two Dragonboat drummers on the fronts of their boats, keeping rhythm.


If you would like to volunteer or just spend the day on High Rock Lake, go to our website for information. WWW.RowanChamberDragonBoat.org

Volunteers will receive an event tee shirt and lunch.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is FREE to attend. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets and make it a fun lakeside party. However, no pets, coolers or outside food will be allowed.

Shade Canopies of every color with tailgaters.

Parking is by donation to the East Rowan football team and boosters, and available in adjacent lots to the Shrine Club. F&M Bank will provide trolley rides for spectators between the parking areas and the Shrine Club property.  


8 a.m.                    Spectator Gates opens.

8:45 a.m.              Welcome and National Anthem

9 a.m.                    Dragon Boat Heat Racing Starts

                               Food Trucks, Beer/Wine & Vendor booths open         

Noon                     Lunch Break – Drummer Parade; Heads/Tails Game

                               Novant Health Wellness Cup Award

1 p.m.                    Dragon Boat Racing Continues

Approx. 3 p.m.     Championship Races

3:30 p.m.               Awards Presentation

Cardinal Tire

I hope to see you at the Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, July 22, at the Shrine Club, Salisbury. Spectator gates open at 8 a.m. and follow the event posts at #DragonBoatRowan

I would love to hear from you on what your favorite lake activity is, or someone that you would like me to feature in the coming months. Please email me at highrock@YourRowan.com

About The Author

Joyce Caron-Mercier

After three decades of working in the motorsports industry from track and team management to public relations, and overseeing sponsorship and driver contracts within NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar and World of Outlaws competition, Joyce wanted more. She came to ACS Charlotte in February 2020 as the staff lead for the annual Taste of Hope Charlotte gala. Joyce’s role encompasses event production, sponsorship cultivation and implementation, public awareness, and interaction with the Charlotte gala Board of Ambassadors, and launched the Young Professionals CLT ABOA in 2022. Joyce and her husband Paul of 32 years discovered High Rock Lake, situated between Rowan and Davidson Counties, and quickly became full-time lake residents on North Carolina’s second largest lake with their two Great Danes, Max and Molly. Joyce writes a monthly blog for Your Rowan, a county marketing initiative to share the positive attributes of Rowan County with its residents and visitors. Joyce’s blog and social handles are called ‘Joyce on the Lake’. Being community minded is important and I serve as Secretary on the Board of Directors for the High Rock Lake Association, High Rock Lake Clean Sweep, and assist the Rowan Chamber with their annual Dragon Boat Festival.