Breathing fire into dragon boating

The Kamloops Dragon Boat Club (KDBC) looking for new members to hop on board

By Marty Hastings,

Kamloops This Week

Dragon boating has experienced growth across Canada in recent years, but the sport has been stagnating in the Tournament Capital.

The Kamloops Dragon Boat Club (KDBC) brass is trying to spread the good word, looking for new members to hop on board.

“A lot of people think dragon boating is just for people who are older and I don’t see that at all,” club president Will Parei said.

“There’s a seniors component to it, but we want all ages.”

Dragon boaters have been racing up and down the Thompson rivers since 1994.

Pioneer Park is the KDBC headquarters.

Rae Fawcett, who began paddling about seven years ago, said there might be another stereotype keeping people away.

The Spirit Warriors, a dragon-boat team for breast-cancer survivors, has received attention for their inspiring efforts in the water, but the KDBC is not strictly for those who have battled the disease.

There were more than 40 members at a recent Wednesday evening practice, enough to send out two full boats, so the club is by no means struggling, but Parei is confident its best days are to come.

The club practises three times a week, sending out two or three boats — each of them 48-feet long, weighing about 900 pounds and capable of holding 22 people — depending on how many members show up.

“Ideally, we would like to grow this club to the point where, every night of the week, there are boats going up and down the river,” Parei said.

Attracting more members would enable the club to split up into teams, allowing paddlers to be separated based on levels of competitiveness.

“Look at Langley,” Parei said. “That city has 22 teams. They stay together and practise on a specific night.”

The River City club’s ace in the hole might just be its most recent hiring, Stan Marek, who was last week named the Kamloops Sports Council’s coach of the year for his work with the Kamloops Canoe and Kayak Club.

“We were talking about what to do with the club’s goals and we found that we could co-operate and reach together those goals,” said Marek, who last year came to Canada from the Czech Republic.

“First, we want to make people happy. This is the most important thing and this is what dragon boating is about — enjoy the sport and nature and then we will have some good results, which will make people happy and more excited.”

The KDBC’s season runs from April 1 to Sept. 30. There are plans to attend four festivals, dragon boating’s term for competitions, with the club looking to send competitive and novice teams to the weekend events.

It’s not mandatory for members to compete at festivals.

When KTW attended practice, the boats were in the water for about an hour and a half.

Marek marshalled the training session, shouting out instructions in his thick Czech accent, leading the crews up and down the river.

Paddlers followed his cadence. He would push on the gas pedal, then let up. The last leg home, with dusk creeping over the Tournament Capital, was highlighted by a few friendly races.

Fawcett was asked how she got hooked on the sport.

“For me, it’s the camaraderie and the people and it’s an incredibly good way to have physical exercise,” Fawcett said.

“If you like team sports, it’s perfect, because you have to get in sync with the people in front of you and beside you.

“You work as a team and yet you press yourself. And no, it’s not just for old people.”

Pondering paddling?

For more information on the club, go online to kamloopsdragonboatclub.ca or email contact@kamloopsdragonboatclub.ca.