The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival takes place Sept. 8 and 9 and will bring an estimated 2,000 paddlers from around B.C. and Alberta to the city. Western News file photo

Teams prepare for one of B.C.’s largest dragon boat competitions

The festival takes place in Penticton on Sept. 8 and 9

With the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival drawing near, local teams are amping up their practices in preparation.

The festival, which is in its 18th year, takes place on Skaha Lake Sept. 8 and 9. The event consists of two 500-metre qualifying heats on the first day, with semis and finals taking place the following day. According to Penny Seely, coach of one of the local teams that will be competing, 22 in Sync, it’s been hard to get practices in due to the air quality the last few weeks.

“We’re hoping to get on the water more. We haven’t been able to because we’ve been smoked out,” said Seely.

RELATED: Penticton Dragon Boat Festival won’t be smoked out

Seely said when local teams can’t get out on the lake, they do have access to modified rowing machines for practicing indoors. Although it’s not the real thing, it’s the next best thing.

“We try and do games on them and things like that,” said Seely. “Something is better than nothing.”

While organizers are hoping for sunshine and great weather, contingency plans have been made if the smoke does roll back into the valley.

“We‘ve seen a number of events having to cancel in recent weeks due to extreme smoke levels, and it got us thinking how could we still provide a racing experience for teams?

With over 2,000 athletes, and two days of racing, it is too big an event to cancel,” said Don Mulhall, the race director. ”And with conditions capable of changing hourly we’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure the event’s success, and paddler’s are safe. The absolute goal is to run the event outdoors on beautiful Skaha Lake.”

That’s when the idea for an indoor regatta came to mind.

The local paddling community maintains a paddling room in the community centre utilizing rowing ergometers equipped with adapters that allow the machines to simulate paddling. The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival needed an indoor space to accommodate the potentially large numbers of teams. David Prystay, from the Penticton Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre, stepped up and offered free use of the conference centre.

“I met with David,” said Mulhall. “He toured me around this beautiful new conference space, and when I explained our need for a back up plan, he immediately pledged to support our event.”

Race organizers are following the provincial government’s Air Quality Health Index closely, and hope to run the event under clear blue sky, but have the other options ready. That includes everything from modifying the race length, to postponing or adjusting the race schedule and the indoor regatta.

There will be a beverage gardens at the event, with the proceeds going to Survivorship — the South Okanagan’s Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat team. There will also be a special ceremony honouring the survivor teams.

RELATED: 22 in Sync take second in their division at Steveston Dragon Boat Festival

“There will be a bunch of other survivor teams, they will have a race for survivor teams only,” said Seely. “Then after, there will be what we call the Carnation Ceremony.”

Seely believes there will be “tough competition coming” to the festival this year, but she’s confident her team will do well within their division.

“Our times in the heat races on Saturday will determine what division we end up in on Sunday,” said Seely. “Those heat races help put you against teams that are close to the same calibre as you.”

The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival is B.C.’s second biggest and it will feature food vendors, entertainment, and a marketplace. Teams from around the province and Alberta will be competing.

For more information about the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, click here.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter

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