July 22, 2018, nola.com

After nearly 20 years, pirogue racing returned to the Town of Jean Lafitte Saturday (July 21) at the town’s newly opened Jules Nunez Seafood Pavilion and AJ & Sheron Fabre Market on Bayou Barataria.

The 2018 Jean Lafitte Pirogue Races and Festival brought out veteran racers as well as young people experiencing the competition for the first time with racing categories divided by age and boat type.

Veteran competitor Malcolm LeBlanc started racing in 1957 and was one of the top racers for years. Now retired from racing, he still loves the sport. As he looked over a row of racing pirogues he pointed out the wooden boats, those made of Kevlar and boats coated in fiberglass.

The swiftness of the boat depends on overall weight, height, length and width. “But the motor makes all the difference,” he laughed. Which, of course, is the person wielding the paddle.

One wooden racing pirogue drawing a lot of attention was crafted by Hamilton Hall. “It’s the first one I ever built,” the young Marrero furniture maker said. “It’s made of sinker cypress, logs buried in bayou mud for over 100 years.”

Blaine Victoriano ran his hand down the length of a 50-year-old black racing pirogue he and his dad, Benny, rebuilt.

“I raced last time they had races and won the teenage open division,” he said. “I love racing and was excited to hear it was coming back. I remember watching my dad race years ago when it was at the Bayou Barn.”

Benny Victoriano had to sit out this year’s races because of recent back surgery. “But I hope to race next year.”

Benny’s brother, Jerry Victoriano, competed in the Men’s Over 50 category and was glad to see the races come back.

“Years ago during the summer there’d be at least one every month, every festival had them,” he said, counting off towns that once hosted races. “I hope they resurrect the races and reclaim the heritage.”

The new seafood pavilion and market provided plenty of shade for the large crowd of excited spectators. A steady breeze off the water helped keep them cool and the mosquitoes at bay. Along with boat races, the event featured local food, arts and crafts, music by Sumtin’ Sneaky and demonstrations of dugout canoe building by members of the United Houma Nation.