Although some strong crews are expected — including the internationally recognized Pemberton Laoyam Eagles junior dragon boat team — organizers of the inaugural Whistler Dragon Boat Festival are quick to emphasize that no experience is necessary.
“You don’t need to have paddled, ever, to race,” said Jackie Webber of Water’s Edge Sport Performance, who is bringing the festival to Whistler with some assistance from the municipality and Whistler.com. “We provide all the boats and equipment, people just need to show up and we’ll provide a coach to take them through everything. We run a lot of corporate events with people that have never been in a dragon boat before and it’s a riot, everyone has a great time.”
The Whistler Dragon Boat Festival will take place over two days, June 28-29, based out of Rainbow Park on Alta Lake. So far about 20 teams from Southern B.C. have registered, and organizers are expecting to have 30 or more teams signed up by race day. Each team has about 25 members, including paddlers, drummer, steersman and coach.
As well, organizers are hoping to start the festival in the village on Friday, June 27 with a “dotting the eyes” ceremony that’s traditional to dragon boat races.
Because this is the first year, Webber says they have modest expectations for the festival but she expects it to grow as word gets out. The goal is to make it an 80-team event within the next three years, and then to host the Canadian Dragon Boat Championships on Alta Lake in 2011.
Because of its scheduling, one week after the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver, Webber expects some international teams from around the Pacific Northwest to stick around and attend both races in the future.
“We’ve spoken to quite a few of the teams that weren’t aware of the Whistler race this year, but are planning to attend next year,” she said.
While attracting teams is part of the equation, creating a successful dragon boat festival in Whistler will also require sponsorship.
“This year will be more of a regatta than a festival,” said Webber. “We want to create that festival feel you see at other events with music and events going on but we can only create that if sponsors come on board. For this year we’re planning a smaller but good quality event, and we plan to really build it up for next year.”
Teams can compete in three different distances, 1,000 metres, 500 metres and a 200 metre sprint.
More information and online registration is available at www.whistlerdragonboat.com, with online registration closing after June 14.