Paddlers will be invading Penticton’s Skaha Lake Saturday and Sunday.
There will be 2,216 of them cruising along the beach in dragon boats for the 16th annual Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, which features 87 teams. That’s an increase of five from last year.
Organizer Don Mulhall said they had initially set a limit of 80 and turned some teams away.
“It sold out a month before the festival and early bird deadline (July 31),” said Mulhall.
The festival attracted teams from the usual areas said Mulhall — the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, northern B.C. and Alberta.
Mulhall is eager for the festival to begin, but he’s looking forward to something else.
“The finals, that’s where it gets exciting.”
Of the 87 teams competing, 10 are local, including the Dragon Bottoms and a group with developmental disabilities that race twice on Saturday.
Diane Matthews of the Dragon Bottoms said the event provides a “great mix of competition, but also the social aspect.”
“It makes for a very social time,” she said. “We do love to compete and see how we stack up against the other teams that are coming in. You kind of get to know the same teams that compete in the local festival. Every year there are a few that you have never heard of. Meet some new people.”
While the teams are racing, Mulhall hopes spectators are there to watch “one of the big events in Penticton that nobody knows about.”
“We seem to be hidden a bit at Skaha Lake,” he said. “Coming down to watch the racing part is pretty easy. I’d still like to see more people join the sport. I think if they were to come down and watch, they would get a sense that it is average people racing. We have 40 mixed teams and 47 women’s teams.”
On Sunday there will be the celebration for breast cancer survivors during a half-hour break. That will be followed by the Breast Cancer Challenge starting at noon, which Survivorship won last year. There are nine teams this year vying for the Dale Charles Memorial Cup. Races on Saturday start at 8 a.m. with the final race at 3:40 p.m. and the Greatest Steerperson on Earth at 4:30 p.m. On Sunday, semifinal races are at 8 a.m. with finals beginning after the breast cancer ceremony at 12:30 p.m. The final race will be at 4 p.m.
Mulhall noted for anyone interested in trying the sport, they just have to show up as equipment is provided.
“It’s something that anybody can do, anybody could start up training … and you could experience a level of success that would make it worthwhile being in the sport,” said Mulhall. For more information about dragon boating, contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.