Story and Photos by Douglas Bain (ISN)
August 19, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Victoria Inner Harbour reverberated to the sound of drum beats and battle cries as 75 dragon boat teams dueled against one another in the 19th Victoria Dragon Boat Festival which took place over 3 days this weekend.
Dragon boating has deep roots in ancient history and tradition and so the first day is purely ceremonial with no racing. Before a boat can be paddled, the dragon must first be awakened and on Friday priests from the Ching Chung Taoist Church perform the ceremony that includes the dotting of the eyes on the figurehead of the blind dragons with cinnabar paints. Blessings are given for good fortune and smooth sailing.
Lights of Courage honouring those affected by cancer – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
A more recent tradition adopted by the Victoria festival follows in the evening with the Lights of Courage. A ceremony where lanterns are lit and display a tag honouring the courage of those affected by cancer. Starting in Vancouver in the late 1990’s, dragon boating was adopted by the breast cancer survivor community as a way of reaching out to other women to offer a message of hope and guidance through encouragement and support. This led to the development of many survivor teams and a challenge race specifically for these teams is held on the final day of racing along with a symbolic ceremony in which carnations are thrown into the water in remembrance. Abreast of Life, the team that started the whole worldwide association of dragon boating with cancer support and awareness was one of the teams competing at the festival.
Breast cancer survivor teams take a moment to remember those affected by the disease in the carnation ceremony – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
On Saturday morning the races began with the qualifying rounds that determined the seeding for the following rounds, semi finals and finals. Each race consists of 4 boats, each with 18 paddlers, a steer and the drummer making a team of twenty. They powered down a 500m course (hopefully in a straight line) finishing in front of a grandstand at Ship Point. After 2 runs on Saturday teams were assigned to divisions based on their timing to race against similar placed teams in the semi finals and finals held on Sunday morning and afternoon respectively.
Every Step Counts, dragon boat team formed from a group for people dealing with difficult issues such as mental health, addiction and poverty make their way to the start line in one of Sundays Semi Finals – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
Among the fastest teams completing the course in the womens division race were Fort Langley Canoe Club Fast and Furious with a time of 2:17.59, Storm/Sudden Impact Paddling Club in 2:20.85 and the Dragonauty’s from Victoria in 2:21.66
Xtreme Reach charge to the finish to win the Mix Diamond Championship Race – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
The mixed division was dominated by Team Cream OC20. They were the only team to go sub 2 mins with a time of 1:56.92 in the first heat and 1:59.99 in the second heat. Most interestingly is that they are not dragon boaters but a team of outrigger paddlers that managed to get some sponsorship and pull together a crew of 20 just for the Victoria Festival. Challenging for second place were Dreadnought from Vancouver with a time of 2:02.35 and Navy Dragon Anchors from Victoria in 2:03.67
Storm/Sudden Impact en-route to winning the Womens Platinum Championship Race – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
There is no official men’s division in dragon boating, however there is an open division where any team member from any crew can race. An amalgamation of Team Cream OC20 and Xtreme Reach formed Xtreme Cream who would go on to take first position in a time of 1:55.70 narrowly beating Dragon Hearts from Vancouver with a time of 1:56.13 Third place was taken by WAM! Wasabi Grandmasters (an alliance of WAM from Seattle,USA and Wasabi from Portland,USA), in a photo finish with VYPC Open from Victoria.
Paddles of Fury bring up the stroke rate at the start of the Mixed Platinum Finals. They would go on to finish in second place. (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
However, competition on Saturday did not end on the water but instead on the stage in the form of the Paddlers Airband where team rivalry and hilarious dance routines performed by the paddlers vying for the coveted Spirit Award. The Goblin Empire dragon boat team in a strident display of music, dance and costume took the honours for a second year running.
With the divisions and advancements from Saturday determined it was back to serious racing early on Sunday morning with the semi finals followed by the finals in the afternoon. Racing on the Sunday would be tight with teams with matching times racing together.
Team Cream cross the finish line to win the Mixed Platinum Final –(Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
Storm/Sudden Impact had the better run on Sundays Women’s Platinum Final, finishing in 2:11.06 just ahead of yesterdays leaders Fast and Furious who recorded a time of 2:12.88. Nusa’Lon Dragons from Nanaimo took third place in a time of 2:17.45
Fairway Express celebrate their win in the Corporate Challenge in Sunday afternoons racing – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
Team Cream were clear winners in the Mixed Platinum Finals finishing in 1:53.14 and over a boat length ahead of nearest rivals Paddles of Fury who recorded a time of 1:59.47. Third place was taken by a junior team, VYPC Canada Dry in a time of 2:01.20 just inching ahead of Dreadnought by 4 hundredths of a second.
Xtreme Cream’s perfect stroke timing that would see them on top of the podium in the Open Challenge Race and record the fastest time of the festival – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
In the penultimate race of the day – the Corporate Challenge, Fairway Express had a clear lead over BC Ferries (in a dragon boat) finishing in 2:20.65. Maximus Power finished in Third place a few seconds ahead of their sister team Maximus Fire.
Team Cream proudly show off their trophies after winning every race in their divisions – (Photo: Douglas Bain/Island Sports News).
The last race of the day and the fastest, most aggressive and exciting race of the festival was the Open Challenge Final. Having narrowly finished ahead of Dragon Hearts on Saturdays qualifying rounds, Xtreme Cream left nothing to chance and put every ounce of energy and coordinated timing into an effort that would take them clear of the field to finish with the fastest time of the festival 1:52.58 just over 4 seconds ahead of Dragon Hearts with VYPC Open taking third in 1:58.47
In all, an astounding weekends racing in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Next week will be the third consecutive Dragon Boat event on the Island with the National Championships being held at Elk Lake, Victoria.