No sight, no problem for these Kelowna dragon boaters

The blindfolded race was a new event at the Kelowna Dragon Boat Races held Aug. 27 and 28 on Okanagan Lake.

The Sonar Dragons paddled to victory at THE AUG. 28 blindfold dragon boat race.

Blind ambition led the Sonar Dragons to victory on Sunday morning, which was exactly what Bill Mah demanded.

“I’ve instructed our guys we have to win this, or I will have a hard time explaining it,” Mah said, cheerfully the day before the inaugural blindfold race, which pitted a boat of visually impaired rowers against two boats filled with blindfolded competitors. The steerage person and the drummer were sighted.

The Sonar Dragons paddle in Kelowna each season with a roster of 28, eight of whom are visually impaired while the remaining are sighted.

“The beauty of dragon boating is, we have the advantage of the beat of the drum,” he said. “We have to paddle to the rhythm, so once you are in the boat the barriers we usually face aren’t there anymore.”

Mah, who is blind, has been paddling since 1999  but this year’s race against blindfolded teams was a first.

“We got involved with dragon boating the first year the Kelowna Dragons hosted the festival,” he said.

“We thought, there’s a breast cancer awareness team, there’s a transplant team…so why not a blind team?” he said, adding that other cities already had blind and visually impaired teams, all of which were supported by BC Blind Sport.

Mah explained that in addition to getting people with sight issues out in a healthy way, paddling and this weekend’s race in particular also serve as a reminder to the greater community that there are blind people participating in their cities and towns.

The blindfolded race was a new event sponsored by Vibrant Vines, 2 per cent realty and Barski Industries that gained a lot of fanfare, but it wasn’t the only draw to the waterfront on Saturday and Sunday.

There were 31 teams from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan which competed in the 11th annual Dragon Boat Festival in Tugboat Bay.

A number of races were planned, although Mother Nature nearly scuttled the whole thing.

On 11:30 a.m on Saturday, the winds kicked up and racers were asked to standby until conditions improved. They didn’t, and at 2:30 p.m., remaining races were canceled.

Sunday was much calmer, and the races carried on.

Entertaining the racers and spectators was Kelowna’s Japanese drumming group, Yamabiko Taiko.

For results go to www.kelownadragonboatclub.com for information.Japanese drummers