SAINT ANDREWS – The tranquil shores of Saint Andrews will be filled with drumbeats from dragon boats this month.
The Saint Andrews Paddling Club is hosting its second annual Race by the Sea Dragon Boat Festival at Katy’s Cove on Sept. 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s a community competition,” said Shelley Hughes, Saint Andrews Paddling Club president. “I wouldn’t say it’s overly competitive, although it’s pretty competitive, but it’s more for fun.”
According to a press release festival organizers issued on Aug. 21, the goal of the festival is to start raising money for community programs in Charlotte County.
“This year, we probably won’t be raising funds, we’re just trying to get enough teams to pay for the actual festival because it does cost money,” said Hughes. “Eventually, what we want to start doing and we’re looking at mental health, so there’s different organizations in town and in Charlotte County that we want to look at supporting.”
Organizers said more than 200 participants will descend on Katy’s Cove for a day of races, food, drinks and prizes. They said teams will be composed of 16 paddlers, plus a drummer, competing in races of 200 metres.
Local industry, small businesses, service clubs, community groups and more will make up the teams, the organizers said, noting that no experience is necessary.
“This year, we’ve reduced the requirement just to make it easier, and … actually we have more teams,” stated Hughes. “Currently, we have three high school teams that have signed up and we’re planning to have a high school division. Hopefully we can get one more in there to make it a little bit more challenging for them. We’re looking to get some more teams as well just to make the adult division (more competitive).”
Last year’s inaugural event attracted 10 teams, with 20 people on each, said Hughes.
Hughes said dragon boating has been popular in Canada “for quite a few decades.”
“There was a doctor in Canada who was looking at women with breast cancer and survivors of breast cancer who initially were being told they should not do any kind of exercise of the upper body,” noted Hughes. “They thought it would do more damage than good but he did a couple of studies and discovered that really it’s better for women to get out on the water and to do exercises like dragon boating, which was the perfect exercise for them, because not only does it give them the upper body work-out that is good for breast cancer survivors but it’s also the camaraderie and the social aspect, which, for cancers survivors, is obviously very important as well, having people who are in the same circumstances.”
Hughes said Pat Barker, an Olympic coach who was involved at the national level, thought the paddling club would be a great organization to introduce dragon boating to the region.
Before the inaugural dragon boat festival last year, Hughes said one of the gates used to let water in and out of Katy’s Cove at high tide was damaged.
“We were in a bit of a panic for a little while, but it turned out fine. It all came together,” she recounted. “We were quite concerned at first because we weren’t sure if we were going to have water in Katy’s Cove up until, I think, it was mid-July.”
Despite that challenge, Hughes said Katy’s Cove is a great site.
“We practice there three times a week throughout the summer,” she stated. “It’s the perfect location. It’s breath-takingly beautiful and the nature there is very calming. A lot of fun to get out on the water, and again, it’s the camaraderie.”
Organizers travelled to Moncton last year to take in the Greater Moncton Dragon Boat Festival as the local youth team participated.
“We did look at the Moncton festival as a learning experience and they’ve been incredibly, wonderfully supportive,” she said. “As a matter of fact, their emcee was our emcee last year. He came here just to help us out and emcee the entire day.”
Hughes said the intent is to grow the annual event.
“Right now, we have two teams that are breast cancer survivor teams, however we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to have what we call a BSC race because, unfortunately, sometimes they’re not able to fill their boats with just breast cancer survivors,” she said. “They’ll often have to have supporters, and if that’s the case, they don’t actually want to compete as breast cancer survivors. We should know, hopefully within the next couple of weeks, if the two teams that are coming are going to be actually full of breast cancer survivors or not.”
Organizers said the festival grounds will be filled with local food, drinks and entertainment, and since space is limited, attendees are being asked to park offsite.
The registration kit and more information are available at https://racebythesea.wixsite.com/festival.