Killer whales in the harbour in front of Sway’A’Lana Lagoon briefly delayed the Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival (Photo courtesy ELAINE VANCE)

Nanaimo dragonboat racers didn’t mind delay due to killer whales

Visit from orcas was a ‘very exciting first’ for Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival

The Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival featured fast-paced paddling – the only time the action slowed down was to let a pod of killer whales pass.

The visit from the orcas Saturday, right in front of Maffeo Sutton Park, was one of numerous highlights of the Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival this past weekend, July 5-7.

“That was a first, and it was a very exciting first,” said Leslie Sutton, Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society spokeswoman, about the visit from the killer whales.

Arlene Witham, one of the Quality Foods Blu By U paddlers, said she couldn’t believe it when the orcas surfaced so close. Later, she joked to one of the directors, “How did you pull that one off?” she said.

“That’s never happened before. It was just incredible, and they had a baby with them, so that was just awesome,” Witham said. “Everyone was completely enthralled by it.”

RELATED: ‘Almost supernatural:’ orcas active around Nanaimo

Other than the short orca delay, things pretty much went to plan over the festival weekend.

“The weather, unfortunately, was not our friend, so we had fewer spectators down there, but for the paddlers, it’s just water … the races went well,” Sutton said.

Witham said despite the rain, the seas were calm, and said practices in the channel are often held on much choppier water.

“Yes, we did get wet, but it is a water sport, right? And it wasn’t cold rain. Yes, you’re wet, but c’est la vie…” Witham said. “People were still laughing and having fun in the [park]. It’s not the first time that people have been rained on in festivals.”

As far as race results, paddlers set a fast pace out on the water. This year’s event saw a new addition to the itinerary, the Guts and Glory challenge, with paddlers taking on a 1,500-metre course.

The first Guts and Glory champions are the Nanaimo Paddling Centre’s Nusa’Lon Dragons, who won the women’s race Saturday in a time of nine minutes, 51.66 seconds. The FCRCC Saggin’ Dragons were second and the Snapping Dragons came third. Sunday saw the mixed Guts and Glory race, won by the Navy Dragon Anchors in 8:14.35. The Fairway Gorge Paddling Club Rebel Alliance placed second with the Save-On-Foods Dragonslayers third.

In the women’s platinum A final, Chix With Stix won in 2:21.73, ahead of the Nusa’Lon Dragons and Stroke the Dragon.

The festival’s fastest final was in the mixed platinum A division, where the FGPC’s Rebel Alliance crossed the finish line in 1:59.98. The Navy Dragon Anchors were runners-up and the Dragonslayers placed third.

In the breast cancer survivors’ A final, Abreast in a Boat Fortitude won a close race in 2:30.50, edging out Sistership Dragon Boat Association and Abreast in a Boat Deas Divas.

RELATED: Nanaimo dragonboat coach aims to beat competition, remember friend

Other winning teams at the Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival include: Cultus Lake Dragonflyers, women’s diamond A; SDBA Chawanda, women’s jade A; FLCC Fraser Dragons, women’s gold A; Angels Abreast, women’s silver A; FGPC Momentum, mixed diamond A; EDBRC River Rats, mixed jade A; Pass the Buk, women’s platinum B; West Coast Warriors, women’s diamond B; VIP Wild, women’s jade B; River Spirit, women’s gold B; Pink Phoenix Soul, women’s silver B; Blu By U, mixed platinum B; Nothin’ Dragon Masters, mixed diamond B; Alameda Dragon Flyers, mixed jade B; Pink Phoenix Heart, breast cancer survivors’ B; Angels Abreast, breast cancer survivors’ C.

RELATED: Dragonboat festival brings ‘guts and glory’ to Nanaimo

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KARL YU/News Bulletin Chix With Stix team members paddle at the dock at Maffeo Sutton Park during Saturday afternoon’s racing at the Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival.

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