When dragon boating arrived on North Vancouver Island six years ago, local paddlers saw it as a way to join friends in fun and fitness.
For five members of the Tri-Port Dragon Boat Society, it’s now become a way to see the world.
A quintet of North Island paddlers traveled to Ravenna, Italy, this week to compete in the 9th annual International Dragon Boating Federation Club Crews World Championships.
Irene Paterson, Shari Woodside, Adele Schoeman, Sandra Logan and Joy Zwicker qualified for the world championships with their showing in last year’s Canadian Nationals in Victoria. They will paddle with the Women’s B entry of the Gorging Dragons, part of the Vancouver Island Paddling Club in a world competition expected to draw 4,500 athletes from 130 clubs in 30 countries.
“Last year we went to the nationals in Victoria and had somewhat the same competition,” said Paterson. “But now it’s on a world-wide scale. It’s so much bigger. We’re very excited.”
The Gorging Dragons, who are entering a total of four teams in men’s, mixed and women’s competition, are traveling this week and will spend several days in Italy to “get over our jet lag,” and get in some practice on the man-made lake where the competition will be held, said Paterson. The racing gets under way Sept. 2 and will continue through the closing ceremonies and awards Sept. 7.
In contrast to the camaraderie-oriented approach of recreational dragon boaters on the North Island, the five local world championship competitors have had to devote themselves to extensive training. Paterson even moved to Mill Bay in June to be near her team for training.
“It’s five days a week on the water, three or four days at the gym,” she said. “You’re running, watching your diet; everything is pointed to the competition in September.”
On the water, the racing will be somewhat different from the regattas to which they’ve become accustomed on Canada’s West Coast. The gruelling two-kilometer race, used as something of a tiebreaker following sprint heat races here, will open the world championships and be used to seed crews into heats for the 200-metre sprint races to follow, Paterson said.
A trip from Canada to Italy, of course, can’t be all work and no play. The paddlers will spend down time in Ravenna touring some of the historic buildings and art works that make it known as the “City of Mosaics”. After the competition is completed, they will travel by train to visit nearby sites in Venice, Florence and other areas.
“Most of us are taking a week before (the racing) in the area and, after five days of competition, making a holiday out of it.”