Members of the Save-On-Foods Dragon Slayers dragon boat team await the all-clear to head out into the harbour. The Dragon Slayers are just one of more than 70 teams participating in the annual Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival

Members of the Save-On-Foods Dragon Slayers dragon boat team await the all-clear to head out into the harbour. The Dragon Slayers are just one of more than 70 teams participating in the annual Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival

Paddlers ready for Nanaimo’s annual dragon boat festival

NANAIMO – Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival happens Friday through Sunday (July 8-10).

Nanaimo residents can expect to find people dressed up in all sorts of interesting sea-themed costumes at Maffeo Sutton Park this weekend.

Dressing up is just part of the fun for the hundreds of participants in the annual Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival, which runs Friday to Sunday (July 8-10).

“Last year it was vikings, so we had people dressed up in viking costumes,” said Leslie Sutton, marketing chairwoman for the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society. “This year’s theme is under the sea, so it’ll probably be mermaids and fish and scuba divers and all kinds of crazy stuff. It really adds to the atmosphere.”

This year the festival kicks off Friday with the Candles of Courage Ceremony at Swy-a-Lana Lagoon beginning at 9:15 p.m. Individuals can purchase a candle, which can then be placed in the water.

“Anyone who has been impacted by cancer can come on down,” said Sutton. “It’s a moving ceremony. It’s a way to pay tribute to anyone that has won or lost their battle with cancer.”

More than 70 teams will compete in races, which will take place every eight minutes, over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

Sutton said this year there are more teams than previous years.

“We have a team coming from Newfoundland, which is the furthest away we’ve had a team come from,” she said. “Dragon boat teams were having a hard time finding people. It is quite a commitment for practising, but it looks like there is an upswing because there are more people coming on board, so that is nice.”

The Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival first began in 2003 and is a fundraising event for the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation and Nanaimo Hospice.

Sutton said what keeps people and participants coming back each year is the atmosphere and energy created by the event.

“Generally everyone is in a really good mood,” she said. “They are there to compete and have fun and meet people they haven’t seen in awhile. “It’s a great time. Even when it rains.”

Admission to the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival is free. For more information, please visit www.nanaimodragonboat.com.