Waves are rippling at Wallowa Lake. Not just because of the late stormy weather and winds — it’s dragons — dragon boats, that is. Locals are practicing for the upcoming Dragons in the Wallowas 7 Wonders Cup dragon boat races coming up on Aug. 24-25. In its fourth year, the event has proved successful at luring plenty of participants from other parts of the state.
Race director and sponsor, Mike Lockhart, said local team, Dragons in the Wallowas, is making a hard run at the races this year. The team is competing with four new boats. The team added 10-paddler boats although the traditional 20-paddler boats are still a race fixture. The 20 paddler boats are about 40 feet in length while the 10 paddler are about 34-feet long.
“A lot of the teams are smaller now, and the 10 paddler boats work well for them,” Lockhart explained. “It’s going to be pretty active with a lot of racing between the two boats.” Lockhart added that team members will be interchangeable between the two boats.
Many of the teams are coming from the Willamette Valley, with many from Portland and Vancouver, in addition to at least two teams from Salem. Lockhart couldn’t yet give a number on the amount of teams competing because some are still in the process of signing up.
“It’s going to be a bigger race,” he said. “We’re going to be running three or four lanes rather than just two, which will be more exciting.” The races are run at the head of Wallowa Lake, near the marina.
Lockhart noted that the Wallowa Lake event is difficult to promote because it is competing with other prestigious events in the sport. Victoria, British Columbia hosted a large race on Aug. 9-10, and the week before, Vancouver hosted a 60-team race to determine who will qualify for the international championships in France later this year.
“There a lot of activities we’re competing with,” he said. “I’m pleased we’re holding our own here. We get a lot of return teams.”
One of the events particular to this race is a slalom event, similar to slalom events in skiing. “If you wanted to get technical about it, it’s really like a giant slalom, trying to get 40-foot boats through the gates,” Lockhart said. “It’s really popular, and one of the major draws to this race.”
As with the previous three races, Joseph will have a temporary Main Street closure in order to bestow an “awakening ceremony” for the boats. Lockhart said the ceremony hearkens back to a Chinese semi-religious tradition of painting the eye of the dragon open to awaken it. He added it is also considered a blessing for the people participating in the race.
“It’s kind of enjoyable,” Lockhart said with a smile. “We turn out a few people.”
A number of vendors will also set up in the marina parking lot and on Sunday, Aug 25, the race committee will provide live music and a beer garden in the tramway area during the award ceremony.
According to Lockhart, the event can always use a few more volunteers. He said it can be fun to work down on the docks, meeting new people and helping the teams load the boats. He also said he needed a volunteer safety boat in case of accidents.
Although the race does not offer cash prizes, the “Wallowa Lake Seven Wonders Cup“, will be awarded to the team with the best overall performance in all events. Additionally, 24 medals will be awarded to the teams finishing 1st through 3rd for each class and for each of the race events.
Even with the slalom races and the addition of the smaller boats to this year’s event, Lockhart knows what really gets competitors here.
“The venue is the big draw,” he said. “It’s Wallowa Lake that brings them in. “They want to get done with racing early enough to roam around and enjoy it.”
Registration deadline for the races is Aug. 15. To volunteer, call Lockhart at (503) 781-4321.