It’s A Wet And Wild World

Getting out on Lake Champlain just got wilder with these two fun upcoming events. Grab a life jacket and jump in here.

This summer, in addition to the usual weekend armada of kayaks, canoes, motor boats and sail boats, you’re likely to see two strange sights on Lake Champlain. On July 23, watercraft of all kind will congregate off Thayer Beach in Mallet’s Bay for the third annual Raftapalooza and then on Aug. 6-7, the waters off Burlington will churn with teams of dragon boat racers. Here’s how to join in.

Raftapalooza 2016

Two years ago, Milton’s Jeremy Dewyea got a big idea. He’d been taking his speed boat around the country doing poker runs (you pick up a card at each stop) and then joining in big raft up parties. He called some friends in the band Justice, built a pontoon raft for them to perform on, sent out a note to friends on social media and Raftapalooza was born.

Last year, the event drew more than 200 watercraft —ranging from a floating picnic table to speedboats to inner tubes. The Colchester police and U.S. Coast Guard lent a hand and, in the words of Justice’s Scott Guptill, “it was one rocking party.”

This year, the event is scheduled for July 23 and already more than 2,000 people have indicated they’re attending. “We’re gonna need a bigger raft for the band,” Dewyea notes. Note: Since bad behavior around the event has been a problem in the past, this’ll be the last year for Raftapalooza. Visit Raftapalooza 2016 on Facebook for details.

Dragon Boat Festival

On Aug. 6-7 during the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival, keep your eyes peeled for a spectacular sight: long, narrow boats packed with crews of up to 20, flying across Lake Champlain, their oars beating the water in perfect synchronization as a drummer on the bow keeps the beat.

Dragon boat racing started in China nearly 2,000 years ago but this summer, it could very well could be your new favorite water sport. Malia Racing is looking to get some new rowers. After a series of free Tuesday evening rowing sessions in June, called “Try-it Tuesdays,” Malia hosts two “bootcamps” at Burlington’s Community Sailing Center that develop the strong core, back and arm muscles needed to propel the boat. The next session runs from July 27 – August 17, with a race on August 20 in Hartford, Conn. The cost for the program is $99 and includes the on-water sessions, entry to the competition and a weekly workout guide.

Coach Lisa Reimann has been involved with the sport since 2005, when a boyfriend convinced her to be a substitute at a fundraising event in Burlington. She’s now raced in world championships and is married to the club’s other coach, Almer Rivera. “It’s visually spectacular,” she says, describing festivals in Montreal where up to 100 dragon boats compete with spectators lining the shores. “It’s also a sport where no one person is the star of the team. You’re in a group of people with a single goal in front of you.”

Suzanne Monzel, a resident from Monkton, practices with the team throughout the year, on water when the weather allows and then indoors in the winter in Montreal at a specialized training facility.

Her first piece of advice to aspiring racers: “Just don’t call it paddling she says,” with all seriousness (say “rowing” instead). “That’s an entirely different sport. Here, if someone calls it ‘paddling’ you have to drop and give 20 push-ups.”

Even though she’s been with the team for about a year, Monzel says she enjoys the bond that rowing with a team has brought her. “I just met them in August but I feel like they would carry me anywhere if I needed them to,” she says.

At the Aug. 7 event (part of Stand Up for the Lake) at Waterfront Park in Burlington, teams of rowers will raise funds for Dragonheart Vermont, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. Malia Racing also plans to have demo rowing available, Aug. 6.

“Many people know dragon boat racing as a fundraising event,” says coach Reimann. ‘We’re pushing now to raise its status as a competitive sport.” For more information, visit www.maliaracing.com.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.