BRADENTON -- Chinese dragon boats, awash in bright colors and showy patterns, will line the Riverwalk for a day of racing March 29.
The first Bradenton Dragon Boat Festival will feature professional paddlers from around Florida and nonprofessionals from Manatee County who want to row for fun. They'll race in 20-member paddleboats with a drummer and steerer.
Races will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in three rounds. The 300-meter course will run along the Riverwalk and around Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Tampa-based Pan Am Dragon Boat, the event organizer, has been eyeing Riverwalk for years as a destination for dragon boat racing.
"The area around Regatta Landing is excellent for this sport and this event," said Mike Kerkmann, president of Pan Am. "The lagoon area adjacent to Regatta Landing
is perfectly suited. It's a sheltered venue with great viewing and lots of open space for vendors. This is really an ideal location for a dragon boat festival."
City officials said they welcome the event as it will draw visitors and new business to Manatee County.
"When we opened the Riverwalk, we had certainly hoped there was going to be more water-dependent type resources, which would help the community in countless ways. The first ...dragon boat event is certainly a good community event," said Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.
The festival could become an annual event, Gustafson added.
Almost 1,000 spectators are expected to descend on Riverwalk come race day, Kerkmann said. Organizers said they hope to draw visitors from other downtown events the same day such as the Farmers Market on Old Main Street.
Pan Am is rolling out its promotional campaign this week in hopes of gathering new teams from the Bradenton area. Corporate groups, churches, civic and community organizations are encouraged to register. The event is open to participants ages 12 and up. No prior experience is required.
The corporate team entry fee is $1,200 and nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)3 status are $600. The registration fee for an individual rower is $23. All equipment and two coached practices before race day are included. To register, go to panamdragonboat.com.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.