Dragon boat organizer encourages locals to watch

Watching dragon boats sprint across 500 metres of Skaha Lake will be like taking in drag racing on water.

Eighty-seven teams are competing in the Raymond James Dragon Boat Festival this weekend at Skaha Lake

Eighty-seven teams are competing in the Raymond James Dragon Boat Festival this weekend at Skaha Lake

Watching dragon boats sprint across 500 metres of Skaha Lake will be like taking in drag racing on water.

That was the sentiment expressed by Raymond James Penticton Dragon Boat Festival organizer Don Mulhall.

“Races last two-and-a-half to three minutes,” said Mulhall.

Races start at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and conclude at approximately 3:30 p.m. The 14-m canoes weigh approximately 400 kilograms and race with 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steer-person. This event, according to Mulhall, is becoming one of the fastest growing festivals in B.C. from 44 teams in 2009 to 65 teams in 2010. This year 87 boats and 1,740 paddlers will be on the lake.

With 87 teams competing, Mulhall said the growth is amazing. He recalls when the festival had 40 teams and thinking that number was perfect. Then when it grew to 60, that too was a perfect amount.

“Now approaching 90, I have to wrap my head around it,” joked Mulhall, who always felt the numbers from previous years were perfect.

The event also attracted more teams after Kelowna’s event had a late cancellation.

“It could add pressure next year, may grow further.”

Among the 87 teams, 10 are local including Survivorship, the local breast cancer survivor team. They hope to compete in the Breast Cancer Survivor Finals and carnation ceremony, which is on Sunday. In getting into the final, Survivorship strives to get back the Dale Charles Memorial Cup. The Breast Cancer Survivor Races start just before 11 a.m. on Sunday.

The mixed division will see many past winners, along with top crews from Calgary, Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The women’s division promises to be more exciting with several strong local teams expected to be in the final Sunday afternoon.

The one thing that would please Mulhall is having locals watch.

“It’s massive, but because it’s on Skaha Lake it’s a little bit out of sight,” he said. “At Okanagan Lake, there would be lots of people. I just can’t stress enough that it’s a great spectator sport.”

Spectators and participants can also enjoy a beverage garden (with proceeds going to Survivorship), food vendors and lots of shopping.

Finals start around noon Sunday with five boats going head-to-head. People can also get the results as they happen on Twitter by following @pentictondragon.