Montana Dragon Boat Festival Postpone to September 2022.

We are sorry to announce that the 2021 Montana Dragon Boat Festival will not be taking place. The planning process for the event needs to begin several months in advance. The success of the event also relies heavily on the day of race director Kevin Kwan and Elemental Dragon Boats, as well as many teams from Canada. With the uncertainty of when the Canadian boarder might reopen, we are unable to host the event.
We look forward to seeing you all in 2022. Stay safe and paddles up!


Registration, which generally opens in early spring, was delayed due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions.  The event committee had to consider if teams would be willing and able to travel.  There was also the uncertainty that the event, which requires teams of 20 to sit in a narrow boat for extended periods, would be able to meet whatever the state guidelines may be in September.  The event’s sponsors have also been financially impacted due to coronavirus closures.

Rebekah King, the director of the Bigfork Area Chamber explained, “We know that many of them would still have been happy to sponsor the Dragon Boat Festival, but we did not feel this was the year to ask our business community for money.”

The event also requires the services of Elemental Dragon Boats, a professional dragon boat race directing team from Canada. The border between the US and Canada is currently closed.

“It became a question of when the border will reopen and if the members of the Elemental crew would be comfortable coming down. The decision to cancel made itself when the uncertainty of Elemental’s involvement came up. The event relies heavily on their presence and professionalism,” said King.

While the 2020 festival may be postponed in the traditional sense, the organizers and local teams are looking for a way to commemorate it. There have been discussions of the Flathead Dragonflies hosting a clinic that weekend, possible virtual races, or a one-day practice event to bring paddlers together. There is also still a chance Elemental Dragon Boat, LTD will be able to come and the event can be modified at the last minute. Regardless of this year, everyone is planning for an even bigger and better event in 2021.

“It is important to keep interest in the festival and the sport of dragon boat racing growing in the Flathead Valley,” said Alida Tinch with the Flathead Dragonflies.

The Flathead Dragonflies will begin practicing soon and invite anyone interested to join them. The team can be contacted via email or look for announcements on their Facebook page. Their practices, along with any other dragon boat related activities, will also be posted on the event calendar on




The traditional Hong Kong style dragon boats used in our festival are 46-feet long, with 10 seats and 20 people. A drum seat in front of the first two paddlers (seated beside each other) holds a drummer – you want the smallest, loudest, most rhythmic person you can find. A steerer guides the boat with the steering oar in back. These 22 people make up a dragon boat team.

Once you and your  team pick up paddles, you’ll love dragon boat racing.  You’ll thrive on the adrenaline and the teamwork in the boat.  People who never thought of themselves as athletes often perform well in the sport of dragon boat racing which requires that paddlers, drummer and steersperson work in unison to cross the finish line.

The dragon boat stroke is unlike any other (the most similar is outrigger canoe) – the rudiments of which can be quickly learned during practice. Every paddler plays a specific role. They sit next to each other, and against the gunnel to balance the boat as they paddle. The strokers occupy the front three seats of the boat, while the fourth seat is a transition place where, ideally, the paddlers have rhythm and power. The next few rows are the “engine room,” where the largest and strongest team members sit. The last four rows of the boat are filled with strong paddlers who are also typically shorter and able to paddle faster. They’re considered “rockets,” because the water scooped back by the paddlers in front is moving faster for them. The paddlers are taught to watch up the middle of the boat and two seats across – and sync with the actions of that paddler. The drummer keeps the rhythm for everyone.

Dragon boating is a very visual sport, and if everyone is synchronized, magic can happen in the boat. Teams have to follow the strategy, and then execute: the team members in the front must paddle in perfect timing as an example for the back half of the boat. When the power from the middle is mixed with the speed and capabilities of the paddlers in the back, a dragon boat can glide quickly through the water like a bullet.

Whether you want to win the race, or win your lane – bring your team to the start line!  Festival teams look to co-workers, friends, spouses, church members, civic leaders, customers, neighbors, and others to fill a team of 20 paddlers and a drummer.  An experienced steerer, boats, paddles and life jackets will be provided.  There’s a reason dragon boating is the fastest growing water sport – and no reason you shouldn’t get involved.  Jump on board and make waves!

Register your team here



According to legend, Dragon Boat racing originated in China more than 2,300 years ago. Chinese history describes the fourth century B.C. as the Warring States period; a time of shifting alliances and treachery.  The patriot and poet Qu Yuan championed political reform and truth as essential to a healthy state. The King, who had fallen under the influence of corrupt ministers, banished his most loyal counselor, Qu Yuan, from the kingdom.

Left to wander the countryside, Qu Yuan composed some of Chinas greatest poetry expressing his fervent love and loyalty for his country, and his deep concern for its future. Upon learning of his kingdoms devastation at the hands of a rival kingdom in 277 B.C., Qu Yuan threw himself into the Mei Lo River.

The people loved Qu Yuan. They raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their oars in the water, trying to keep the fish from his body and ward off evil spirits. To honor his soul and ensure it didn’t go hungry, they scattered rice into the water.

Today, dragon boat races are primarily a form of amusement and fun, while also highlighting the history and culture of this colorful event. Every year, people come together to pay tribute to this fallen statesman by paddling to the beat of their own drum.

The Montana festival starts with the traditional dotting of the Dragons eye before racing begins which awakens the dragon and unleashes its fire, giving boats and their crews the strength of the dragon.

Join Us


Volunteer – we love our volunteers! Help is needed in team loading, marshaling, score running, the information booth, spectator surveys, volunteer support and many other areas. For information on volunteering, contact Rebekah King at 406-837-5888 or

Sponsor – become a Dragon Boat Sponsor. Join the growing number of businesses and organizations that support the Montana Dragon Boat Festival each year. Contact Rebekah King at 406-837-5888 or

Join a Team – whether it’s as a paddler, drummer or captain, find your inner dragon and get on a team.  No experience is necessary and we provide the boats. Register your team here.

Come and Watch – the Festival offers a whole weekend of activities for paddlers and spectators. Enjoy music, entertainment, local food, beverages and kids’ activities on the shoreline of spectacular Flathead Lake, the largest fresh-water lake west of the Mississippi.

Want to get involved? Contact us:
Bigfork Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 237
Bigfork, MT 59911