Dragon Lake Paddlers practice for the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival this weekend.

Dragon Lake Paddlers practice for the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival this weekend.

Paddlers set for Penticton Dragon Boat Festival

If you’ve been close to Dragon Lake in the evening, you’ve likely heard what sounded like the slow rhythmic beat of a heart, boom, boom, boom.

A peek out over the lake would reveal the source of the heartbeat, the drum at the head of a dragon boat named Sylvia.

If you’ve been close to Dragon Lake in the evening, you’ve likely heard what sounded like the slow rhythmic beat of a heart, boom, boom, boom.

A peek out over the lake would reveal the source of the heartbeat, the drum at the head of a dragon boat named Sylvia.

The boat is named in honour of Sylvia Graham, Community Fundraising Coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society, Cathy Briggs explained.

“She was the fundamental leader in getting us a boat,” Briggs said of Graham.

Graham was a breast cancer survivor when the dragon boat first made its appearance, early in the groups second year.

Unfortunately, Briggs said, Graham suffered a recurrence and passed away early this year.  

“She actually never even paddled in our boat,” Briggs explained

“But she is with us in spirit.”

Twice a week, as soon as the ice came off Dragon Lake, a group of determined women have been practicing for the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival.

The festival, scheduled for Sept. 9 – 11, will see 88 teams compete for bragging rights in various categories, including ladies, mens, mixed, and survivors (breast cancer).

This summer marks the fourth season for the Dragon Lake Paddlers and the trip to the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival is their third in as many years and consequently comes with higher expectations.

“We have improved our standings each year,” Briggs said.

“This year we want to come home with hardware!”

A competitive dragon boat has 20 paddlers, a drummer in the bow of the boat and a steerperson at the stern of the 16 m, 500 kg boat.

The drummer keeps the rowers in time, encourages the rowers and keeps them focused.

Sarah Shipley is the drummer and coach for the Dragon Lake Paddlers.

The steerperson, Len Cave, keeps the boat going in as straight a line as possible between the start and finish markers.

Having Shipley at the front of the boat is quite the coup for the Dragon Lake paddlers.

Shipley began dragonboating 20 years ago in high school.  She also competed with the False Creek Women’s Team in Vancouver and raced at the World Championships in Hong Kong, where they placed third.

“The second I heard that a team was going to start up in Quesnel, I was involved, first as a paddler, last year as a paddler/coach and this year as a coach,” Shipley said.

Although she has world-class experience, coaching still presents challenges, Shipley admitted.

The biggest challenge of coaching and drumming at the same time is not being able to see all the paddlers, she explained.

Given the 16-m boat and 20 paddlers, it is difficult to see beyond the fourth row of paddlers without leaving her position behind the drum.

“Ideally, we would have a drummer and a coach boat, so I could work with the paddlers from outside the boat, a far more effective way of coaching each individual,” Shipley added.

With 20 paddlers, Shipley said another challenge was matching individual paddlers to their strengths and managing the different personalities.

“Placing people in a dragon boat has its’ own set of challenges,” Shipley said.

Most coaches put the stronger paddlers in the back of the boat, paddlers with a big reach in the middle and in the front of the boat the paddlers with lots of experience, or who hold a steady pace naturally.

“This blending of the boat tends to be more of an art than a science, and I am still learning,” Shipley admitted.

“The beauty of this sport is pretty much anyone can do it.

“It just takes a lot of practice to get good at it.  You could do it for a lifetime and still learn something new, which is a big part of why I love it so much.”

The Quesnel Dragon Boat Paddlers hit the water in Penticton Saturday morning for their first of at least four races.

Going to Penticton with Cave and Shipley are: Jodi Ballenger, Carolyn Draginov, Sandy Brunt, Kathy Jaffary, Fran Hewitt, Kordula Thompson, Jill Walker, Dot Knudson, Doreen Wickham, Cathy Briggs, Jacguie Savard, Kathy Beauvillier, Marcia Swanson, Leslie Shaw-Gook, Lesli Hildebrand, Anita Dobie, Liz-Anne Eyford, Marjie Robertson, Margaret Fenton and Bev Grondzil.