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Pemberton paddlers work together

Laoyam Falcons take gold in Junior B; Eagles silver in Junior A at Dragon Boat Festival


Pemberton paddlers rallied for some excellent showings as the Laoyam Falcons took the gold in the Junior B Championships at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver June 18 and 19.

"It was awesome," said Madison Graves, 18, Monday after the Falcons took the gold with the help of some recruited Grade 6 and 7 students.

In an email, coach Hugh Fisher said: "The Falcons crew is made up of the high-school kids who had not made the Eagles and were too few in number to make more than half a dragon boat team." Fisher went on to describe the sight of the boat with a couple of Grade 12 kids at one end of the boat and four smaller Grade 6s at the other.

"But they paddled like champions in their final. Great timing, great power, great desire to win — what a great accomplishment," Fisher said.

The Falcons had previously raced the Laoyam Eagles, and were knocked down to the B division.

"We ended up racing the Eagles for one race and our time was significant and we got bumped down to the B category — we ended up winning that category," said Graves.

The Eagles, for their part, earned silver in the Junior A Championships against the Eric Hamber Eternal Dragons.

Coach Fisher said Oliver Esseltine and Quinn Phare were stroking, with Brooke Phare steering.

"They had a great start and were pretty much even with Hamber 100 metres into the race," he said. "The Eagles pulled ahead at around the 250-metre mark but Hamber came back and at the finish line snatched the gold from the Eagles — both crews far ahead of the rest of the field. A very exciting race. Lots of tears at the narrow loss but I am extremely proud of the way they raced and of this crew."

Said Eagles' Keeley Ouellett, "It was super intense.

"(Though) it wasn't as nerve-wracking as last year.

"The pressure was taken off because we weren't stressing about keeping the streak going... We had our little group circle going on and we were singing Bon Jovi before the race and we were holding hands on the way to marshalling — it was actually really nice."

For Eagle Riel Tetreault, the race was the sum of its parts.

"One thing that Hugh Fisher, our coach, always says is that you don't win the race on the day of, you win it in practice beforehand," said Tetreault. "We just make sure we go out to the practice and work hard. On race day, a lot of other teams they cheer and they're really loud before the race, they do all their chants and they try to be intimidating and we're always quiet because Hugh says you've got to stay calm right up until that moment when you need your energy. I think it's good for us."

Pemberton had five teams racing over the weekend: the two Junior teams (the Falcons and Eagles); one mixed adult team (Bald Eagles); and two teams composed of the fastest juniors and their male and female counterparts from the Bald Eagles racing.

The adult mixed team, the Bald Eagles, came fourth in the Competitive B final, which Commodore Karen Tomlinson said was a great result considering there are about 120 teams in the event. As there is only a Competitive A division above them, it meant the Bald Eagles came in 13th overall.

Fisher said the "Baldies" came fourth by just a few tenths of a second.

The Hugh Fish open crew was a combination of men from the Bald Eagles and boys from the Laoyam Eagles, but due to a race conflict the women from the Bald Eagles subbed in for the final. That crew came in ninth.

The women's crew, Hens and Chicks, raced well on Saturday, Tomlinson said, but a decision was made on Sunday to pull out of the event Sunday in order to rest the girls for the Junior A final. The crew that raced on Saturday came in fourth overall — after the event was rescheduled when a cruising boat sailed onto the race course.