Did you know Rowan County hosts an annual Dragon Boat Festival on High Rock Lake in July?

What a fantastic way to see ‘our’ lake, check out local food vendors, watch a few races and enjoy family fun. If you have not had time, or an opportunity to visit High Rock Lake, you now have your official invitation and details right here.

The Seventh Annual Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival will be held on Saturday, July 24th and it just may become the social event of the summer. We all have been cooped up for more than a year, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Festivities begin at 9 the Shrine Club on High Rock Lake, 6480 Long Ferry Road, Salisbury, N.C.

The Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival has traditionally been the largest annual spectator event held on High Rock Lake, the second largest lake in North Carolina. The festival includes vendors, food trucks and activities for the whole family in a park-like atmosphere.  Spectators can stand on the shore or get ON the lake to enjoy the spectacle.


The 2021 Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival event chair, Daniel Matangira, is ready to lead the volunteer event committee to jumpstart the summer entertainment in 2021.  Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID 19.  “The Dragon Boat Festival instills teambuilding, family fun and clean-competition,” said Matangira.  “I have been waiting a long time to defend our 2019 championship with the Matangira Recycling & Cardinal Tire/Gator Bites team! As a local small business owner, this event promotes a true sense of community and is a fundraiser to enhance the Chamber’s resources for small businesses of Rowan County. I am extremely proud of how our community has supported this amazing event in the past, and next month will be no holds barred for my team against the competition. This Dragon Boat Festival will certainly be one for the record books as residents will be ready to venture out to the lake to look at what all of the excitement is about.”

With the news of Governor Roy Cooper lifting all mandatory capacity, gathering limits, social distancing requirements and most mandatory mask requirements, the festival will certainly be a lively spot for those that want to get out and enjoy the lake.

“We will be following state and federal recommendations. As of right now, no face coverings or temperature checks are needed. Anyone who is sick or has not been vaccinated should stay home,” said Elaine Spalding, President Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.  “Our Dragon Boat Committee and chamber volunteers are so excited to see the returning Dragon Boat teams, food vendors and spectators and want to welcome all of the first timers at this year’s festival.”

The event is FREE to attend, and 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. Parking will be $5 per car and will be coordinated by the Salisbury High School Booster Club as a fundraiser. Rowan Tourism will provide trolley rides between the parking areas in the adjacent lots to the Shrine Club property. Boats are welcome to view from the main channel or can dock behind the Shrine Club to enjoy the food and festivities.

New Sarum, Salisbury Brewing Company is joining the festivities with a limited release Dragon Boat Rice Lager. Brew master Andy Maben points out the light and refreshing rice lager is brewed with chrysanthemum and will only be available during the Dragon Boat Festival.



Dragon Boat racing is a 2,300-year-old tradition from Ancient China with 45’ sleek boats donned with dragon heads, tails and scales that seat 20 paddlers each. PanAm Dragon Boat is a company that has been contracted to oversee the competition and provide each team with all the necessary equipment (boat, paddles, life vests). Teams learn how to paddle during an introductory practice session. Each team has 20 paddlers (a minimum of eight must be female), and one drummer. On race day, each team will compete in three heats on a 300-meter straight course.

Each boat also has a drummer positioned in the bow pounding the drum to the beat of the paddlers’ stroke, and there is one ‘professional’ steersperson from PanAm who stands in the stern guiding the team. Races are slotted in heats, with the final race at the conclusion of the activity for the championship and bragging rights. Olympic style medals will be awarded to the first, second and third place winners in each division. An over-all Champion will be named after the Finalist Race. Novant Health will also present the Corporate Cup traveling trophy to an organization or business with the best workplace wellness program.

Divisions are made up of Club (traveling), Corporate, and Community/non-profit teams. 


I spoke with Pam Am owner Mike Kerkmann recently. Mike has been promoting Dragon Boat events for more than 30 years. Originally from Toronto Canada, he moved to Florida when he retired. But the call of water, competition, and his passion for teaching the next generation about Dragon Boat racing and competitive teamwork called him back. Now, Pam Am is the largest producer of dragon boat equipment and production services for events in the North America.  Mike recognized the potential growth of the sport in the early 1990’s and it became clear to him that the sport, along with its grass roots annual festivals, could only afford to spawn and grow with the availability of short- term rentals and with professional on-water race production.

In 2020, when in-person events were cancelled, Mike needed to pivot his business as he wanted to keep his staff employed. Mike had more than 80% of the necessary assets: john boats, work boats and experience with water construction; so, a marine construction business was created focusing on residential dock/pier repair and rebuilds in Florida.

“I missed the social aspect of Dragon Boat racing, and I am so looking forward to coming to Salisbury in July. This will be our first out-of-state event for the 2021 season, and I can’t wait. We resumed our training camps in April for our weekend contractors, our Dragon Boat ‘Roadies’, as I like to call them. We have been working on our inventory of dragon boats for any repairs needed and we are ready to get to and service our clients’ events!”  founder, President & CEO Kerkmann said.

A normal busy Dragon Boat season is 40 events. Currently Pam Am has 14 scheduled for late summer/fall 2021 including the U.S. nationals in Sarasota, as well as events in Philadelphia, PA; Kenosha, WI; Laporte, MI; Dallas, TX; Peach Tree City, GA, and three additional events in N.C. in Oriental, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Mike continued with, “the 2022 season is shaping up to be back at full schedule.”

“Dragon Boat racing is a serious sport and serious fun.”


Team entries are still available for the event. Do you have 19 friends, neighbors or workmates that may be interested in seeing what you can do as a competitive team? These prepared boats are stable, and a professional steer person is provided for each team. If paddling is new or different for you, do not worry.  There will be a training/practice session the day prior for your team. Dragon Boat competition can be your personal Olympic event, as it’s an easy way to be part of a team sport. And this may be the only time folks can get on the lake with paddle in hand. Team entry fees start at $800. Defending Gator Bites Team Captain, Glenn Heilig shared, “Our team is ready for the competition and our plan is simple, smoke every team out there. So, we encourage teams to enter, enjoy the lake and be prepared to settle for second place!”

Corporate sponsorships are available, and benefit packages can be provided by calling the Rowan Chamber 704.633.4221. The deadline for sponsorship is fast approaching. Sponsor packages start at $1,500 and increase with benefits and exposure options.

There will be live entertainment during the noon break with country singer/songwriter Sydney Lett. Sydney will sing a few of her original songs, including ‘Chasin’ Trains’ for the festival attendees.

For more information, please contact the Rowan Chamber at 704.633.4221 or or Follow us at #DragonBoatRowan.

I would love to hear from you on what your favorite lake activity is, or someone or something that you would like me to feature in 2021. Please email me at

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