It almost sounds like one paddle striking the water; then blades paused ever so briefly, the 40-foot dragonboat silently glides through the water of Collingwood’s harbour before 20 paddlers strike again.
Over and over the cycle repeats, some 350 times, until the south end of the harbour is far behind, and the coach calls, "Let it ride..."
Three years ago, when the Collingwood Dragon Boat and Canoe Club was created as a result of a dragon boat being donated to the community, a very disparate group of people - accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, engineers, teachers, writers - were brought together through a love of paddling.
The club has significant success in its three years; the competitive crew has climbed the ranks and remains perched among the top 15 teams in eastern Canada. And, it continues to expand its programs to encourage children and recreational paddlers to take part in a on-water sport.
Sixty-two-year-old Vince Miller joined the club this year, after paddling with a couple of clubs in Toronto over the last several years."I've been retired now for six years and now have the time to work at my passions - the two favourites being art and dragon boat paddling," says the retired visual arts teacher. After he moved to Wasaga Beach last year, Miller found he really missed paddling in a dragonboat – not only for the exercise, but also the camaraderie. "We (his former teammates) were a very social group; barbecues, pub nights, and of course, a love for dragon boating," he says. "Some of us were together with that team for over eight years. We were also a real mix of ages from 16 up to 65."
"Certainly it’s great exercise, and to work to develop as a team over the year and go in races, is such fun and enjoyment!" Miller says. "You have the greatest feeling after being in a race, whether you win or lose. You always felt you did your best. "Dragon boating is just such a great sport! It gets in your blood."
That’s been the goal of the CDBCC since it was formed in 2004. While the focus has been on the competitive aspects – the club’s competitive team, The Sidelaunchers, has endeavoured to attend at least three festivals during the summer – at its core the goal has been the fun and healthy benefits of paddling, especially for young people. Club president Brian Saunderson says young people easily adapt to the sport of paddling, especially in the C-type sprint canoes where balance and core strength is as important as stroke technique.
"The amazing thing about the kids is how quickly they pick this up," Saunderson said, noting that when it comes to boats like a C-1, "it's more about getting a feel of the water and balance, not just the paddling."
This year, the club’s focus has become even more ambitious; club members are just putting the finishing organizational touches on the Collingwood Sidelaunchers Dragon Boat Festival, this year held on Sept. 2. The club took over the event from the two Collingwood Rotary Clubs. Paddlers who have experienced the Collingwood Dragon Boat Festival in the past are in for a treat with the facilitator hired for this year’s event, Great White North. All races will be run using beautiful BuK dragon boats which weigh a paltry 600 pounds, compared to the 1,600 pounds of the teak boats used in past festivals. The club has also partnered with E-3 Community Services, a community organization that provides services to people with special needs.
This year, the festival features an exciting new format. A ‘team village’ will be created on the north side of the Collingwood Grain Terminals, and – weather conditions permitting – paddlers will be racing four at a time, and heading toward the bay. Registration fees have also been reduced to $700 for teams in the mixed recreational and competitive categories. Teams will also have the option as to how many practices they wish to take part in. Registration fees include one practice with coaching by a member of the Sidelaunchers dragon boat team. Optional practices with coaching are available for $100 per session.
There are still team spots available, and the event is also open to individuals who aren’t part of a team – but still would like to paddle. Festival organizers will match individual paddlers with a team.
For more information on the festival, and the club, check out www.collingwooddragonboats.ca
Submitted by Ian Adams