Nothing gets you motivated for your aerobic workout like a carefully constructed soundtrack of heart-pumping music.
The strategic echoes from a giant drum can also help you race a 40-foot boat weighing around 500 pounds.
The Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival is returning for Marathon for the second year this May, and organizer Karen Bowers has the long-term vision that the event could be the Middle Keys’ equivalent to Fantasy Fest.
A couple of years ago, Bowers, a retired commercial photographer and marketing guru, brought the first dragon boat race to Key West as a fundraising event for the Lower Keys Habitat for Humanity.
Such a large-scale event, however, took many, many hands and time to organize and coordinate, so the inaugural event did not evolve into an annual one.
A couple of years later, Bowers read a call for “something new and exciting to attract people to the Middle Keys” in several local newspapers. After staging the event one year, a solid business plan was already in place and all she had to do was show it to the right people.
Bowers appeared before the Marathon City Council, and after months of planning, staged another daylong dragon boat festival at Sombrero Beach.
But in order to continue to grow the event, more people and businesses must be interested in becoming involved.
“It can’t be done by one person,” she encouraged. “If the community wants ‘something new and exciting to attract people to the Middle Keys’ it takes the community’s backing to make that happen.”
Bowers said even with the tough economy last year, in-kind sponsorships made the event possible. But in order for this year’s event to be bigger and better, Bowers said the same assistance would be necessary this year. And then some.
The Battle in the Bay festival has garnered the support of the Monroe County Tourism Development Council, and Bowers has recruited professional teams from as far away as Germany to come compete at this year’s event.
Without participation from local teams, she contends, the event would not be possible and she couldn’t attract international travelers to spend money in local businesses.
“What I’d really like to see would be unique fundraising events like car washes and dart tournaments that would encourage these teams to come into town a day or two before the races and enjoy our community,” she explained.
In fact, a team of 65 and older members from Punta Gorda has signed up for this year’s race. They not only took advantage of early registration discounts, they’re arriving in Marathon on Thursday before the Saturday event.
“These races are for the young and old, fit and out of shape,” she continued. “It’s so inclusive, I can’t think of an event that compares to this anywhere in the Keys.”
The Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival not only puts more heads in beds for local businesses, a portion of the proceeds from the festival supports a local charity, and teams are encouraged to raise funds for the charity of their choice.
Bowers said one idea that blossomed out of last year’s event was the creation of a hospitality suite at Sombrero Resort & Marina www.sombreroresort.com, who is also serving as the event’s official hotel.
“Like it or not, we live in a tourism-based economy,” Bowers said, “and we need to roll out the red carpet for these traveling teams to make them want to return year after year.”
Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Racing Festival
When: Saturday, May 8, 2010
Where: Sombrero Beach, Marathon, Florida Keys
For more information, visit www.battleinthebay.org