All four Tri-Port Dragon Boat Society teams gather for a group photo during the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon boaters wrap up busy season

The North Island's TriPort Dragon Boat Society is coming off a season of high achievement.

The North Island’s TriPort Dragon Boat Society is coming off a season of high achievement. Next year, it’s aiming even higher.

“We’re planning to compete in nationals next year,” said Boni Sharpe of Port McNeill, one of the leaders in a society that keeps boats and holds practices in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Sointula. “If things go well, we may consider going to the World (championships).”

Part competitive paddling club, part fund-raising organization and all social enjoyment, the society wrapped up its 2012 competition season last Saturday with a runner-up showing by the Warriors in their division in the Sproat Lake Dragon Boat Festival, near Port Alberni.

That showing capped a season that saw the boaters host their third annual TriPort Dragon Boat Regatta and appear in several other local events, including Sointula’s Canada Day celebration and the annual Alert Bay 360 Eco Paddle Challenge.

Society members also competed in several competitions across the Island, highlighted by the Pussycats earning bronze in the top-level Platinum final at the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival — a race in which the five finalists were separated by only 1.5 seconds.

Also, an unprecedented four local teams appeared in the Save On Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival in July. In that regatta, the Paddling Pussycats and the Warriors went head-to-head in the Ladies Diamond A final and Na’max’sala won the Mixed Diamond B final.

“We’re a high-level competitive crew up here,” said Cheryl Middleton of Sointula. “In Nanaimo they were shocked, because we had four teams from one club, in the smallest demographic area. And they all did so well.”

But the society is not only about competition. Many members paddle recreationally during the weekly in-season practices, and the society welcomes new members whether they are interested in competing or just in taking part in the fast-growing sport.

Registration fees and a variety of fund-raising activities by the group have helped fund a variety of beneficiaries since the society was established with the purchase of a single Dragon Boat a little more than four years ago.

The society drew three down-Island teams to its third annual Dragon Boat Regatta, held this year during Port Hardy’s annual Filomi Days festival in July. A paddle auction, with paddles decorated by local artists, drew $1,200. Additional fund-raising resulted in a $3,200 donation for the battered women’s shelter and another $500 to Operation Track Shoes. Additional funds, targeted for youth in sports, covered registration fees for needy young athletes in soccer, hockey and gymnastics, said Cheryl Middleton of Sointula.

Also, 10 per cent of funds raised during the Filomi Days Regatta were donated back to the Filomi Days committee.

The numbers of participants continue to swell, and the society is now up to three full-sized Dragon Boats and a smaller, 10-person practice boat that can be used for practice by smaller groups.

To inquire about joining the society or for more information, email triportdragonboat@gmail.com or visit TriPort Dragonboat Society on Facebook.