More than 170 teams took part in the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver last weekend, with crowds of almost 100,000 coming out to watch two days of racing and celebrating the events 20 th anniversary.
Pemberton’s Laoyam Eagles dragon boat team went in as the heavy favourites, having won the junior regatta category the past nine seasons as well as placing highly in other competitive categories. Despite the regular turnover of students, their own expectations to perform, and the targets placed on their backs by other teams, the Eagles did it again.
In the qualifiers the Eagles posted the fastest time of any of the 16 participating teams, then proceeded to shave another four seconds off their time in their first competition heat on a 500-metre course. In the semifinals they edged out a strong Eric Hamber team by more than five seconds to move on.
With the finals taking place on a 1,000-metre course, the Eagles took an early lead and kept building. They finished in 5:48.24, almost a full 50 seconds faster than Eric Hamber. The Kitsilano Water Dragons were third.
That wasn’t all for the Eagles, who also raced and won the 500-metre regatta, the Rogers A Championship, and placed fourth in the adult Competitive B championship while missing the podium by just 0.6 seconds.
The Pemberton Bald Eagles, an adult team mainly comprised of parents of the Laoyam Eagles, entered the competitive A Champion, placing fifth overall. They also finished fifth in the Guts and Glory Race.
The Laoyam Falcons, the development team for the Eagles, also had a solid weekend, winning their heats and going on to the Rogers A Championship for the junior category where they finished fifth.
The Laoyam Eagles, Bald Eagles and Falcons are based at One Mile Lake in Pemberton, and are coached by former Olympic paddler Dr. Hugh Fisher. The team will be featured in Whistler this weekend at the first Whistler Dragon Boat Festival, June 28-29.
The Whistler festival will be based out of Rainbow Park, with up to 30 teams taking part in 200-metre, 500-metre and 1,000-metre races.
The opening ceremonies will get underway at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday with the national anthem, a traditional Lion Dancer, and Mayor Ken Melamed performing the ritual dotting of the eyes to wake the dragon’s spirit. Water’s Edge, the company hosting the event, have also secured a beer tent for the festival, with proceeds going to the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program and the expansion of their adaptive paddling programs.
One of the attractions will be a face-off between the Laoyam Eagles and Bald Eagles, seeing which team can keep a water skier up the longest.
“The Laoyam Eagles are the heroes of the weekend, they’re world champions,” said Jackie Webber of Water’s Edge.
The organizers have also secured the Longhorn Saloon to host the party on Saturday night.
There is still an opportunity to sign up teams, or for groups and individuals to join other teams. Visit www.whistlerdragonboat.com for more information.