The Western Regional Dragonboat Championships took place on Lake River in Ridgefield this weekend, Aug. 3 and 4. The competition was moved to Miller’s Landing in Ridgefield due to ongoing water quality issues at Vancouver Lake. 

“The port and the city have really stepped up,” race director and owner of Double Fifth Dragon Boating Jeff Campbell said. “I had just lost my (original) venue. I didn’t know where we were going to go.”

Jeff Campbell said he went to the Port of Ridgefield with his “hat in hand” after Vancouver Lake closed down due to toxic blue-green algae blooms and had to compress “multiple months of work into the course of a week.” 

According to Jeff’s wife, Kelley Campbell, the event featured around 900 paddlers and over 20 teams. The Vancouver Lake-based dragon boating club, Catch-22, served as volunteers for the event, which brought over 1,000 people to Ridgefield. 

Although no local teams will be advancing to the 2020 World Dragon Boat races in France, the event was about more than medals for many involved. 

“The Dragon Boat Paddling community is a pretty tight-knit community,” Kelley Campbell said, explaining how she ran into someone she had met seven years ago who remembered her name from DragonMax, a paddling team from Berkeley, California.

According to DragonMax paddler, Daisie Ogawa, DragonMax is known as the “kooky and fun dancing team.” 

“We want to win of course but our coach, Roger, is always saying it’s more important for us to have fun and be together than to win; that’s the spirit we try to bring,” she said. 

DragonMax paddler Judy Lee agreed with Ogawa about having fun while being on the team, however, she’s always in it to win it as she has made multiple appearances on the United States National Team as a paddler and steerer. 

Lee has been paddling for 14 years after joining the club in 2005 as a way to relieve stress from her day job at Kaiser Permanente. Now, she is retired and a full time paddler and went to Italy for a Dragon Boat competition in 2014. 

Lee echoed Campbell’s thoughts on the networking part of the sport.

“I don’t know how many new faces I’ve met,” Lee said, talking about the friendships she’s made including “adopted Canadian daughters” that she looks for at races.

While networking and meeting new people are the fun part of the sport, Heidi Hess of Wasabi Dragon Boating in Portland was sure to mention the time and effort her team and others put in to be at the event. 

“It’s a lot of work,” Hess said. “Most of us are on the water at a minimum three days a week, most five (days a week) and some seven.” 

Hess talked about the sport being nearly a year-round sport, despite the main competitions being in the summertime. 

“It’s kind of like your full-time unpaid volunteer job that you have to pay to do,” she said while mentioning the people all over the state, country and world that she has met due to the sport opening up a whole new world. “You spend time with people who become your extended family.”

Dragon Boats have a regulation team size of 22: 20 paddlers, one person steering at the helm of the boat and one giving directions and coaching the team of paddlers on formation, speed and efficiency. Sometimes, the director plays a drum to keep the paddlers on beat. Although the regulation sport began in 1976, the history of dragon boats dates back over 2,000 years to ancient China and was an event in the original Olympic Games in Greece. 

“It’s the easiest way to get 20 people on the water safely,” Hess concluded. 

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