Nearly 1,500 paddlers on 73 teams will be competing in the 14th annual Penticton Dragon Boast Festival this weekend at Skaha Lake.
“This festival has become the season-highlight race for lots of teams from all over B.C. and Alberta,” said organizer Don Mulhall in a release.
Races are Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spectators can watch teams of 20 paddlers (plus a drummer and steers person) on mixed and women’s crews racing the 15-metre canoes in 500-m sprints. Several of Penticton’s women’s teams are expected to be among the top competitors, and are anticipated to be in the top final on Sunday afternoon. Penticton also has two mixed teams aiming for the platinum division, with one team – Peach City Dragons – recently winning the Vernon Dragon Boat Festival. Mulhall said they are considered a favourite.
Along with the finals, races on Sunday will include the Breast Cancer Survivor Finals and carnation ceremony, starting at approximately 11:30 a.m. Mulhall said the ceremony is amazing.
“I’m bragging a little bit. I think our festival is one of the best,” Mulhall told the Western News.
Mulhall said other communities that do breast cancer survivor ceremonies usually have it on the water at a distance from the crowd. At Skaha Lake, the crowd is invited on the beach.
“There is that real closeness,” he said.
Cathie Lauer of Survivorship said the ceremony honours the women who died from breast cancer and those who are fighting the illness.
“It’s a way to show our unity in our battle against breast cancer and salute the courage of all the people who are diagnosed,” she said. “It’s just incredibly emotional. Many, many people are crying. Many of the people on the beach are as well.”
Nine boats will be wrapped together while the team members join hands and wave a pink carnation. They also sing Garth Brook’s The River. The ceremony concludes with a moment of silence and tossing the carnations.
The Survivorship crew will also be looking to win the Dale Charles Memorial cup.
Among the 73 teams competing will be the Flying Dragons, which features Special Olympic athletes. Avery Newton, a member of the Flying Dragons, said the group is nervous after making its debut last year. There has been improvement under the watchful eye of coach Mulhall.
“He is an awesome coach. He works us really hard,” said Newton.
Mulhall has been amazed by how far the group has come.
“They know all the intricacies of racing,” he said. “I think they will do well.”
With nearly 80 races scheduled for the weekend, Mulhall encourages people to watch. The event will also feature a beverage garden with proceeds to Survivorship food vendors and a market.
For more information, go to www.pentictondragonboat.com.