Dragons dominated Wallowa Lake over the weekend of Aug. 24-25. Not mythical creatures, but dragon boats, human powered watercraft participating in a sport that originated in China more than 2500 years ago.

{span}The use of dragon boats for racing probably{/span}{span} originated in southern central China{/span} {span} along the banks of the Yangtze River. {/span}{span}Dragon boat racing {/span}{span}was an important part of the ancient Chinese agricultural society, celebrating the summer rice planting. Today, the International Dragon Boat Federation formulates {/span}rules and manages the annual international championship competition.

The popular sport entered Wallowa County in 2016 with the creation of the Dragons in the Wallowas rowing team and the Wallowa Lake 7 Wonders Cup dragon boat races, which just finished it’s fourth year with a shining performance by the local squad and a capsize of the Salem Water Otters vessel in which no-one was seriously injured.Teams from Portland and Salem were among those competing.

The weather turned out practically perfect for the two-day event and a large crowd thronged the lake marina’s parking lot to witness the action”. The races went for distances of 250 or 500 yards with as many as four boats competing at once. Large and small boats with teams of 20 or 10 rowers, respectively, competed for the 7 Wonders Cup and the right to be masters of the Wallowa Lake waters. Competition was fierce, but friendly.

Overall Best team was Dragon Fuel from Portland. Castaways was second in the category. And the home team, Dragons in the Wallowas  took third in the Overall Best category.  It was their best finish in the four years of the races here. The team won first  in the 500 meter Women's Small Boat class, and took second or third in six other races. "The team's success was indicative of superior race team management, and superb paddling and calling," said event organizer Mike Lockhart.

The only mishap of the two days was the capsizing of a 20-person boat carrying the Salem-based Water Otters team. It happened during a three-boat 500-meter race on Saturday morning. The Salem Water Otters boat got off to a slightly slower start than the two leading teams. The challenge of racing was complicated by a brisk wind from the north that also produced a heavy chop on the lake’s water. The first two dragon boats navigated the rough water, but the Water Otter’s boat tilted sideways enough to dump all 20 paddlers, their drummer, and the steerer into the chilly waters of Wallowa Lake. Some, including several paddlers who were not wearing life vests, clung to the overturned dragon boat, while others bobbed in the water.

Although the rescue boat and timer boat both responded to the accident quickly, it took an estimated 5-10 minutes for them to begin bringing the cold, wet paddlers aboard. While there were no injuries, one young Water Otter required assistance in getting from the rescue boat onto the dock, and from there back to the team’s area.

Wallowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Lem McBirney had been called to the north end of the lake prior to the accident, but returned in time to provide assistance in securing the nearly submerged dragon boat, towing it to a dock, and assuring that it was drained, bailed, and “lake-worthy”.

The accident caused an approximate half-hour delay in the races.

“It was actually good practice for us all,” said Water Otter coach Ruth Fox. “The water was clean and calm, and the rescue boats got there to help us. It was sort of a stress inoculation experience for us all, and something the team members have to learn to deal with.” With Fox’s counseling and reassurance, the two young Otters were back in their usual positions in boats and paddling on Sunday.

After Sunday’s last event, the camaraderie between all the teams continued at the awards celebration, held outside the Edelweiss Inn at the foot of Mt. Howard. While a band played classic rock, teams indulged in food and beverages while congratulating their competitors on their performances as a team. Medals were announced and received joyfully between team members.

The local squad had one of their best years yet, with the team bringing home — — medals, one gold---silver---bronze medals to add to their treasure chest. Team captain, Kelly Jenson, was pleased with her crew’s performance and the event as a whole.

“I thought the venue ran smoothly,” she said. “We hardly had time to sit down, it was so smooth.”

Jenson noted the team as a whole performed brilliantly, with the team stroking well and its transitions getting better each year. She also noted the weather as something to be lauded.

“The weather was so great,” she said. “This year was so beautiful and perfect — it was a highlight.”

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