Nanaimo’s Wave Babes dragon boat team sets off for a practice paddle in Nanaimo Harbour Friday in preparation for the annual Nanaimo dragon boat festival

Nanaimo’s Wave Babes dragon boat team sets off for a practice paddle in Nanaimo Harbour Friday in preparation for the annual Nanaimo dragon boat festival

Dragon boat festival draws thousands of racers, spectators

NANAIMO – Lawrence Tang recalls becoming hooked on paddling as he watched the first dragon boat festival 12 years ago.

By the time dragon boat racers roared across the finish line, Lawrence Tang realized two things: there was nothing girly about the sport, and he was hooked – “fully hooked.”

“All the excitement, the competition … you have 20 people doing the exact stroke at the exact same time in order to be at their maximum – there’s no other sport where that’s a requirement,” he said, adding he knew he had to get involved.

That was 12 years ago at the first Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival. This week, Tang and his team, the Mentor Mariners, plan to make waves during their 11th race at the annual harbourfront event.

The team will join thousands of spectators and paddlers who are expected to converge on Maffeo Sutton Park for the three-day festival, beginning Friday (July 4). It’s considered one of the city’s largest events, drawing an estimated 14,000 people last year. It’s also the kickoff to a summertime series of festivals, from the Silly Boat Regatta to the Nanaimo Marine Festival and Great International World Championship Bathtub Race.

“It’s just one of those events that make Nanaimo, Nanaimo,” said Ian Niamath, a member of the Dragon Boat Festival Society.

The event, which revolves around the fight to end breast cancer, will start with an invite-only Survivors Party on Friday evening, followed by the Candles of Courage ceremony at Swy-a-lana Lagoon to honour those affected by cancer. Over the weekend, the public will be able to take in entertainment, put on in partnership with Crimson Coast, as well as peruse vendors at the Farmers’ Market and view races.

The Snuneymuxw will hold an official opening ceremony at noon on Saturday and on the last day, survivors will be recognized in a ritual carnation ceremony.

For Barb Parker, a paddler with the Wave Babes, the event is not only a chance for her team to see just how far they’ve come, but a way for them to fundraise for breast cancer equipment through the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation. The team has raised $117,000 for the charity.

“The fundraising part is just as important as the paddling,” Parker said. “I think most of us feel it’s a way to give back to the community.”

For more information, please visit www.nanaimodragonboat.com.

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