Early Saturday morning, there weren’t many spectators at the International Canoe Federation World Dragon Boat Championship. But Ron and Doris Lewis made sure to get to Lake Lanier Olympic Park right around 9 a.m. to claim a spot in the grandstands, lawn chairs in hand.
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
Racing events: Beginning 8 a.m. Sept. 16
Closing ceremonies: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, the Smithgall Arts Center Lawn, 331 Spring St., Gainesville; tickets $20
How much: Parking is $10
After they found a spot, they chatted a bit, and waited for one of the races to start. As soon as it began, Ron Lewis peered through binoculars and followed the dragon boats as they glided across the water toward the finish line. It was the first time he and his wife had watched the sport.
“We always try to find something unusual to go do,” said Lewis, a Gainesville native now living in Cornelia.
The Lewises are what they call “full-time RVers” who hop from place to place in their recreational vehicle, spending about a month in each. This month, they ended up in Cornelia and heard about the dragon boat championship and decided to try it out. They went to the opening ceremonies Wednesday, Sept. 12, and made it back to see a morning of races on Sept. 15.
“It sounded interesting, so we just wanted to come see it,” Doris Lewis said. “We’d never seen it before. I mean, it’s the first time it’s been here in America, so we had to come.”
As they experienced their first dragon boat races, Doris said it was a little slower than she thought it would be but enjoyed watching the athletes. Both may have been expecting something a little faster after stopping at the Guntersville Lake HydroFest motorboat races in Alabama earlier this summer.
“It’s like hearing a jet engine on an airplane when hydroplanes come around,” Ron said. “So this is a little more peaceful.”
Plenty of other fans enjoyed that peace as the afternoon went on, including Brenda Miller and Beth Hefner. They both volunteer with the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club for just about every event; they just finished their 13th year with the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival last weekend.
This time, though, they sat back under the shade of umbrellas and simply observed.
“I think they’re doing a great job with this,” Hefner said. “We both looked at the volunteer list and considered volunteering but we do it so much we thought we’d just come watch this time, so that’s what we’re doing. It’s nice to just come and watch.”
Hefner’s daughter, Elle, used to race dragon boats and was impressed with what she saw on the water. After spending Friday at the event with her mother, they couldn’t wait for another sweltering day of dragon boat enjoyment.
“I think it’s so cool that all the cultures are combined at the dragon boat championships,” Elle said. “Everyone from around the world is at this. So I think that’s a cool aspect, especially for Gainesville.”