Before we get, save the date for the 2019 Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival on July 27!

Okay, so what exactly is a Dragon Boat race?

It’s an ancient Chinese secret!

Dragon Boat racing dates back to more than 2,300-year-old tradition from Ancient China with 45’ 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 race course.

Rowan County Steers Ahead

About six years ago, 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 fund raising activities for its small business programs and services. The Chamber’s marketing committee established the criteria – something unique, fun in the summer, and something fresh other than the average golf tourney. Oh, and how about bringing in outside visitors to make the event impact our local economy in a positive way? Rowan Chamber President, Elaine Spalding, reached out to other chambers of commerce across the country seeking their advice and feedback on successful corporate events. After researching potential opportunities, the committee selected the Dragon Boat Festival for the Rowan Chamber; the fastest growing water sport in the U.S.!

A steering committee was formed with active chamber members Cindy Hart with Great American Publishing and Ann Presley with Trinity Oaks. That’s when the excitement hit – Ann jumped into the deep end of the pool, or lake so to speak, when she attended an event to learn about the operations of hosting an event. Along the way, she learned how to be the “steer person” on the boat. She was hooked and knew our community would as well.

“We found the perfect venue, the Shrine Club has it all – great lake access, plenty of space for vendors, 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 Brewing and Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery, seeing our local corporate CEOs and county commissioners,” said Spalding.

That inaugural year saw 16 teams compete; we are now up to 30! And hoping for more.

Rowan County Dragon Boat Race Competitors

Largest Annual Event on High Rock Lake

The annual Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival is something the community looks forward to each year. The Chamber strives to bring about positive, family-oriented activities, while incorporating county business partners to make a positive economic impact. This event is diverse and appeals to many market segments – with a beautiful setting, outdoor competition, entertainment, food, and local beverages to enjoy!

Pam Am operates the event including 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 with the 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.

2018 Dragon Boat Race Gold Medals

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

There are so many stories to share about the teams’ passion for Dragon Boat racing, but one specifically stood out. One of the teams honored a former teammate, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and later passed, by dedicating their team name after her. They even took home a team medal to her family.

The teambuilding aspect is huge! Freightliner, a major Rowan employer located in Cleveland, North Carolina, now has two teams which is a great story in itself. In five years, only two team boats have turned over. One being Freightliner. Though a little embarrassed, with Miller’s Ferry Fire Department on site, everyone was safe. “I believe that mistake may have pushed Freightliner into upping their ‘lake game’,” says Spalding. “I am hoping that we eventually have a club team here, we have a lot of talented, athletic community members who live here,” continued Spalding.

One of the teams that has been in competition since the inaugural year continues to be made up of the various county departments including DSS, Rescue, Finance, IT and Sheriff. The team’s name for this summer’s race is “Rowan County Oar-iginials” and their captain is Janet Ruffin, one of my fellow Your Rowan Connectors. Janet and I are totally excited about the upcoming event as we both are on the Rowan Chamber Dragon Boat Festival Committee. We attend monthly meetings with Spalding and her talented team, Tracy and Mary Scott as well as Teresa Dakins, of Trinity At Home. Our meetings work to determine the offerings to the participants, invites to garner additional teams, and sponsoring entities like title sponsors Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and Trinity Oaks/Trinity at Home/Lutheran Services of the Carolinas. Event sponsors showcase major employers in Rowan County such as Hotwire Communications, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, and Trinity Senior Services of Rowan.

Additional sponsors include: Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine; Rowan County Tourism Development Authority; Salisbury Post; Atrium Health; Cube Hydro Carolinas; Duke Energy; High Rock Lake Association, and Luke Fisher, Fisher Realty, Inc.

Ruffin says being the captain of the county team is a lot of work but is fun, with a sense of county pride intertwined and it’s great for team building. “I have met several of my teammates who also work for the county, but since they are in different departments, I would not have met them without our Dragon Boat competition bond.”

Novant Health Team at Dragon Boat Race

Dragon Boat Race Competitors

Practice Makes Perfect, But Adjustments Bring the Medals

“We practice on Friday night prior to the competition. On race day, at the first session, we use that as a real practice and may even adjust some paddlers to different positions for better strength. The second session is the set up for the qualifying to stage for the races. Then it’s full on in the third session: drum beat equals stroke, all in sync. Last year we brought home a bronze medal. This is legit, it’s physical, fun and yet relaxing. Families come out to cheer on their favorites. During our off time, we do other teambuilding activities and even have drawings for prizes throughout the day within our team tent,” explains Ruffin.

Ruffin continues, “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, design of the t-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 top that for this year.”

Team Paddle Me Again at Dragon Boat Race

The Countdown is On!

We created a poll asking our Your Rowan readers to vote on their favorite activity on High Rock Lake. Want to take a guess at what won 1st place? That’s right, the Dragon Boat Festival!

If you would like to paddle on a team, volunteer, or just spend the day on High Rock Lake, visit the website for information. Volunteers will receive an event tee shirt and lunch.

The event is Saturday, July 27, 2019 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. Parking is by donation and available in adjacent lots to the Shrine Club. Or, you can come by boat on High Rock Lake. Rowan Tourism will provide trolley rides between the parking areas and the Shrine Club property.

We hope to see you at the Rowan Chamber Dragon Boast Festival on Saturday, July 27 at the Shrine Club, Salisbury. Follow us on social media using #DragonBoatRowan2019!