The Laoyam Eagles Pemberton secondary schools dragon boat team were flying high last weekend as they captured top spot at a Lower Mainland regatta.
But, according to coach Dr. Hugh Fisher, the Eagles nearly floundered after being beat in the first heat of the day.
"It was a rude awakening," he told Pique Newsmagazine . "But it was the best thing that could have happened."
The Eagles then put together fast second and third heats to breeze through to the finals.
In the final, the Pemberton paddlers finished the 250-metre course in 54 seconds beating their nearest competitor by four seconds.
"Thats a pretty good margin," pointed out Fisher. "We were really looking hot."
The races were hosted by the Lotus Paddling Club at Barnet Marine Park on Burrard Inlet.
The Laoyam Falcons, a team of younger, less experienced paddlers, also raced at the regatta and missed competing in the final by one second.
Never heard of dragon boat racing, let alone a high school team? Well, get used to it.
"The sport is experiencing huge growth," Fisher said. "There are about 16-20 high school teams in the Greater Vancouver area."
Dragon boats consist of 20 paddlers plus a drummer, who helps keep the strokes consistent, and a steersman, who pilots the craft around the course.
The Eagles are now gearing up for the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, an annual international event held June 23-24 this year on Vancouvers False Creek.
"The [Lotus Club] regatta was a good tune-up," Fisher said. "We need to keep focused and practice our timing and technique."
The Eagles, who consistently post faster times than most of the 150-plus adult teams at the festival, are the two-time defending high school champions.
"The kids train hard, have a good attitude and keep coming back every year," explained Fisher, who won a gold and bronze medal in kayaking at the 1984 Olympics.
The teams practice twice a week on Pembertons One Mile Lake during the racing season.
"A lot of them have four years of paddling experience and tend to improve a lot between Grades 8-12."
Fisher said the Eagles receive overwhelming support from parents and the community, and will be travelling to Long Beach, California, this July for another competition.
The team also won the high school division and placed third in the adult division at a regatta in San Francisco last fall.