The Penticton Dragonboat Festival is looking for additional support for its 20th anniversary event next September. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)

20 years of dragonboat racing in Penticton

The Penticton Dragonboat Festival would like to make its 2020 anniversary event the biggest yet

From its start with only 12 teams to 80 registered teams this year, the Penticton Dragonboat club is getting ready to host its 20th anniversary Dragonboat Festival in Sept. 2020.

Don Mulhall, the club’s race director, presented to Penticton city council during the committee of the whole on June 18 about the history of dragonboat in the city and how the sport has gained popularity over the past 20 years. The event transitioned from a one-day event on Okanagan Lake to a two-day event on Skaha Lake, andeach year it has grown in size in terms of teams and additional attractions such as the event’s beverage gardens.

“The first Penticton Dragonboat Festival was held on Okanagan Lake in the year 2000. We had 12 teams that year and continued to run it here on Okanagan Lake until we found a boathouse, and thought we found less wind on Skaha Lake, so we moved it in 2008,” said Mulhall. “So at that time we had about 27 teams. We increased it to a two-day event in 2009 and had 43 teams. Next year will be our 20th anniversary here in Penticton.”

Mulhall said the festival has “consistently sold out for the past five years at 80 teams, which adds up to 2,000 athletes” alone. During the event, more than 80 500-metre races will take place near the shore of Skaha Lake, meaning “there’s a lot of action because there’s a race starting about every 10 minutes.”

READ MORE: Upcoming opportunities for dragon boat paddling in Penticton

“Five years ago we had an economic impact study done and it was shown that we bring about $2.3 million just for the Penticton Dragonboat Festival. We run other events but this was just for the event specifically,” said Mulhall.

Mulhall listed the eight local teams that compete through the club, which adds up to around 300 paddlers representing a variety of demographics. There is a mixed and women’s senior team, a breast cancer survivor team, mixed and women’s team for all ages and a team for intellectually-challenged adults.

“We have Canada’s first team, called the Flying Dragons, which is for intellectually-challenged adults. It’s Special Olympics dragonboat team and the first of its kind in Canada,” said Mulhall. “We also run programs for another 300 school groups, youth groups, sports teams such as the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team a few years back.”

Mulhall also noted that the Penticton Dragonboat club is a non-profit organization and relies on the support of volunteers to pull off its festival each year, which is one of the biggest in the province. He said in the near future, the club plans to approach the city and council to see if there is a way to amp up the city’s current support for the event for next year’s anniversary.

“The support we get from the City of Penticton presently, which is just approximate, is $14,000. This covers the office space we use at the South Okanagan Events Centre, we have a paddle room dedicated to local paddlers to train in the winter, and it also cover things like the park rental, mobile washrooms, crews to set up the park and crews to set up my water course,” said Mulhall.

Mulhall suggested that the club would like to see the creation of commemorative merchandise, business community involvement and additional marketing.

“I think by growing our 20th anniversary and making it a big event locally and in the dragonboat world, I think it would set us up for the next 20 years,” said Mulhall. “Because we’re down at Skaha I’d also like to see something at the other side of the city, maybe a parade of athletes or something.”

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