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Steveston Dragon Boat Festival promises a flurry on the Fraser
His R.C. Palmer Secondary team roped him in, but like salmon swimming past baited lines, Gene Figueroa was soon hooked.
Figueroa, 20, is a paddler for Ares, one of 60 dragon boat teams competing in the Steveston Dragon Boat Festival Saturday. The festival is expected to draw hundreds of spectators and 1,600 paddlers, and for Figueroa and many others, the appeal lies in teamwork.
"That's really what draws me in. I like paddling with the team. (As) a group of people we just click and work together for a common goal," said Figueroa, who practises the sport three times a week.
Competition begins at 9 a.m., with boats starting at Britannia Shipyards and madly plying the waters in 250- and 500-metre races that end near Imperial Landing.
"The competition is really thrilling. People practice for weeks on end," said Ann Phelps, general manager of the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society and organizer of the fourth annual event.
Each boat is filled with a team of paddlers, a drummer and a cox who steers. Working in unison, the paddlers propel the boat with the aim of completing the course in the least amount of time.
Boats are composed of novice racers to experienced paddlers who come together a day of fun and fitness.
"People don't realize how much it takes to move a dragon boat. So it's very good for your core and your upper body, and even your legs," said Phelps.
Participants are drawn to the social activity as a commitment to sport for life, added Phelps, whose been involved in the sport for 23 years.
"You can do it as a kid, you can do it as an adult, and you don't have to start off being particularly co-ordinated or athletic," she said. "It's a team sport, so no matter what, nobody gets left behind."
David Chinn, a member of the organizing committee, said the sport attracts a broad spectrum of participants who become part of a "paddling community."
"The sport itself is really quite accessible. There are a lot of school teams, there are blind paddlers. Anybody who can get into a boat can really do it."
For spectators, spying the paddlers Saturday will be easy. The Fraser River course offers lots of great viewing locations along the boardwalk east of No. 1 Road.
Starting at 7 a.m., Lions club members will be serving up breakfast for $5. Food, activity and vendor booths open at 9 a.m. and a children's arts and craft tent opens at 10 a.m.
Entertainment begins at 11 a.m. with an African dance performance from Yasse Afro Arts. Jazz, Celtic and reggae music are among the afternoon's offerings on stage.
Donations of non-perishable food or cash for the Richmond Food Bank are welcome at the Aug. 24 event. Britannia is located at 5180 Westwater Dr., and the Imperial Landing docks are located near 4280 Bayview St.