Frequently Asked Questions

What is dragon boating?

  • Equal parts sporting event and spectacle, dragon boating is a team sport that has its roots in ancient China. In the last 25 years, dragon boating has been revitalized and is one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. A dragon boat is a long, colorful boat, similar to a racing canoe. Each boat is propelled by a team of 20 paddlers, a drummer and steer person (provided for you). Races take place in heats on courses of 250 to 300 meters.

Why is Mayo Clinic Health System - Franciscan Healthcare hosting this event?

  • Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare is committed to creating a culture of health in our community—one where we all help each other live the healthiest life possible—and the Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival is a dynamic representation that commitment.

    • The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival not only raises funds to support breast cancer survivors, it also provides a sisterhood of support and physical activity that promotes healing.
    • Dragon boating is a great way for people of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels to enjoy the benefits of being physically active.
    • No one person shines in dragon boating; it truly requires a team effort, and the camaraderie is part of the fun.

Why combine dragon boating with breast cancer survivorship?

  • Dragon boating has become a popular way for breast cancer survivors to stay active and connect with others. It provides the benefit of vigorous exercise and research indicates the paddling motion may help prevent or relieve the symptoms of lymphedema, a known side effect resulting from breast surgery or radiation. The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival will include a survivor recognition ceremony the afternoon of the event. All survivors, regardless of whether they are paddling, are invited to participate.

When and where is the Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival?

  • The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival will be held on Friday and Saturday, July 15-16, 2016, at Copeland Park in La Crosse, Wis.
  • Friday, July 15 Schedule:
    • 5-8 p.m. - Team Tent Set-up
    • 6 p.m. - Opening Ceremonies
    • 6:30 p.m. - Youth Races
  • Saturday, July 16 Schedule:
    • 7 a.m. - Warm-up's begin
    • 7:15 a.m. - Mandatory Team Captain Meeting
    • 8 a.m. - Racing begins
    • 4 p.m. - Racing ends

How many teams are expected to participate?

  • In 2015, 50 teams participated, encompassing nearly 1,200 paddlers. The number of teams for 2016 is expected to increase and will be limited to the first 60 to register and pay. If you’re thinking about forming a team, don’t put it off – register now! You won’t regret it.

How long is the race course?

  • The race course is approximately 300 meters in length. It takes an average team less than 1.5 minutes to complete the course; but don’t be fooled, it’s more challenging than it looks and even more fun than you imagined!

Do I need to be an experienced paddler to participate?

  • Dragon boating is enjoyable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Individuals on a team can consist of various abilities and strength levels. It’s not about how athletic you are. In fact, no one person shines — the success of a team depends on how well you can paddle in unison as a team. When all 20 paddlers work together in perfect sync, the boat moves smoothly and quickly through the water. There are premier athletes who excel in the sport along with youth teams just learning the sport. All skill levels are welcome. If you have health limitations, we ask that you consult with their physician first.

How do I participate and what is the cost?

  • Gather your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers and register a team. Choose a race division: Community, Corporate, and Breast Cancer Survivors. Then, select your team competition level. Choose from novice, intermediate or experienced. Selection should align closely to your team’s past dragon boat paddling experience, athleticism and mindset (“you’re in it just for fun” or “you’re in it to win it”). This will allow your team to compete against other similarly skilled teams for fun, fitness or bragging rights! Find all the details on our Team Information page.
  • Team registration is open from February 15 to June 17, 2016.
  • Early bird team registration is $700 through April 1; thereafter, team fees increase to $800. The fee includes a practice session and paddling lesson with a coach to help prepare your team for race day. Additional practices can be purchased for a fee. Some teams fund-raise or seek a sponsor to help cover the cost of team registration. Others simply split the cost equally among all paddlers.
  • The last day team registration will be accepted is June 17, unless we’ve already met our 60 team maximum. 

What should teams plan for?

  • Each team must have a team captain who will be responsible for completing the team registration form and submitting payment in full by check or credit card. We will not be able to accept multiple payments from paddlers on the same team. Team captains are also responsible for communicating event-related information and materials with their team as they become available.
  • Teams can roster up to 24 paddlers and 1 drummer.
  • Each paddler must be at least 16 years old.
  • Teams registered as Corporate or Community must have a minimum of 10 women on the roster and paddling on race day. The drummer does not count toward the minimum requirement. 
  • Breast Cancer Survivor teams must consist of all survivors. Supporters are encouraged to participate in a variety of ways; including joining a community or corporate team, cheering your loved one on, and of course attending the Breast Cancer Ceremony. 
  • A steersperson will be provided for your team at practice and on race day; however, a team can supply their own qualified steersperson if he/she has been approved by the event committee and has had previous dragon boat race steering experience. 
  • Teams should plan for and commit to a full day of racing (8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). Racing could run ahead or fall slightly behind schedule so paddlers and teams should not leave the park.
  • Teams are encouraged to develop a theme to set themselves apart (wear crazy hats, wigs, create a team song or anything else fun and festive!) Be creative! Various team spirit prizes will be awarded.
  • Commemorative event shirts will be available to purchase for $20 at the event.

Will teams have the opportunity to practice before race day?

  • Dragon boating is a water sport that requires a little practice in advance. Each registered team will receive one free boat practice. Teams can also purchase additional practice sessions. The more you buy, the better the price:
    • 1 practice = $100 per hour
    • 2-4 practices = $90 per hour 
    • 5+ practices = $85 per hour
  • A practice schedule will be posted and sent to all team captains in late spring. Teams are encouraged to reserve their practice time early. Availability is on a first come, first served basis.

Can a person paddle on more than one team?

  • A paddler or drummer is permitted to double-roster - paddle or drum on more than one team. Double rostering is permissible only if the paddler or drummer is rostered on teams from two different divisions (Corporate, Community or Breast Cancer Survivor). The double-rostered paddler or drummer must make each team captain aware they are rostered on two different teams. The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival race officials will not be responsible for scheduling conflicts for paddlers or drummers on two or more teams and will not, under any circumstances, delay a race to permit a paddler to join another team.

I’m interested in paddling but I don’t have a team. How can I participate?

  • Visit the Join a Team page to see a listing of teams who are looking for paddlers. Contact information for each team will be listed. Please contact the team captains directly.

I’m a team captain and need more paddlers to fill my boat. Where I can find others?

  • Please send us an email at and we’ll place an ad on the Join a Team page on your behalf.  We will need your Team Name, Team Captain's name, contact email and preferred phone number. Prospective paddlers who are looking to paddle on a team will be encouraged to reach out to you directly.

Do I need to purchase special equipment to participate?

  • You do not need to purchase special equipment to participate in dragon boating. Paddles and personal flotation devices (PFDs) will be provided at practice and on race day. We do recommend you wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing that does not absorb or hold moisture (i.e., Dryfit or Coolmax). A tighter fit rather than loose or baggy is best. You will get wet! Shoes are required. Wear an old pair, water sandals or aqua socks are good choices. Flip Flops are not allowed. To protect your back side, some people prefer to sit on a gardening pad or towel. We will have seat cushions (called Dragon Saddles) available for purchase on-site.

How can I get involved if I don’t want to paddle?

  • Become a volunteer! Volunteering requires no special skills — just a willingness to help and a desire to help produce one of the area’s most exciting outdoor competitions. To learn more, contact Sandy Bissen or Joyce Mlsna.

Who do I contact if I have more questions?

  • For more information about the Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival or how you can get involved as a paddler, please contact us at