The 10th Annual Penticton Dragon boat Festival Sept 12 had its largest turnout with 43 teams competing. Thirteen of those teams were breast cancer survivors. Almost 1,000 competitors in racy team jerseys jammed the beach walkway along with onlookers, kids and dogs to watch the action.
Colourful boats sporting their full regalia of fiery dragon heads and streaming tails raced across Skaha Lake shoreline in the equivalent of a hundred yard dash — anaerobic and over fast.
I got to watch it from the front of the boat, along with my 19 fellow paddlers and our all important steersperson and drummer. In the fourth race, the Revelstoke Dam Survivors paddled furiously, 72 strokes a minute, for 3rd in our division with a zippy time of 2:25. Minutes that is.
Penticton’s festival is a fun event, reminiscent of a renaissance faire. At one of the many booths, paddlers lined up for an artist to airbrush their paddles or tattoo their limbs with whimsical dragon motives.
Paddling has also become serious business. Shins sport protective padding and many competitors have traded in their chunky wood paddles for liteweight graphites. If you can master the tricky stroke, you can dragon boat. Teams are a mix of ages, sizes and sexes. One team had an 89-year-old man and an eight year old boy.
Twice weekly all summer we practiced on Lake Revelstoke. Compared to other waters, our lake is pristine, quiet, full of solitude. We paddle with beavers, loons and kayakers, losing ourselves in the team effort to focus in the boat, to paddle together.
Coach Ginger Shoji encouraged us on — “it’s all in the timing.” Like a centipede on speed we trained to race, mastering the all important start. Then, in competition, it’s all over in 2 minutes something as the boats gobble up the 500-metre course.
Is all the effort worth it? Absolutely. Dragon boating is addictive.
For Ginger and me, Penticton was a training run for the Richmond Seniors Games the following week, Sept 17. We had joined a women’s, Sicamous based team, the Shuswap Silver Dragons, and trained hard over the summer. The average age was 68 and there was a lot of power in the boat.
The new Richmond Olympic Oval on the Fraser River, site of the opening and closing ceremonies and some sporting events, was impressive. The domed roof is lined with gorgeous beetle eaten pinewood, but the place was too chilly for the 55 years plus athletes attending, 3,900 of us in all.
The Fraser River presented its own challenges. We raced upstream against the current and the tide, adding almost a minute to the times. Still, the Silver Dragons won a bronze in a time of 2:55. The Fraser Valley Power Surge stroked to gold with 2:44. The Cowichan Valley Vintage paddled off with a silver medal in 2:47.
Standing on the podium in the sunshine with Sea Island and the Fraser in the background, singing Oh Canada while family members screamed for us and a posse of photographers recorded our 2:55 of glory was pretty darn sweet.
The catch phrase for the Games, etched on our medals, was “The Power of Age.”
Dragon boating rocks.
Barb Little is a local senior and avid dragon boater