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In Victoria, dragon boats take to the water two weekends in a row

Dragon boat festivals in Victoria this weekend and next

Get ready for back-to-back action as paddlers show off their teamwork at the Vancouver Island International Dragon Boat Festival this weekend and the Victoria Dragon Boat ­Festival next week.

Dragon boat racing has surged in popularity around the world in the past 20 years.

Crowds of people always come to view the brightly adorned boats as they cut through the water with crews of 20 — 18 paddlers, a steerer in the back and a drummer at the front who sets the stroking pace of the rowers. Not only do paddlers build physical strength, they also find camaraderie and long-term friendships in working as a team.

The sport’s popularity is ­international, with teams ­regularly travelling overseas to compete in men’s, women’s, mixed gender and junior categories.

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival held its first race in the Inner Harbour in 1995 and has been, except for the past two years, a highly anticipated event for participants and spectators alike.

Vancouver Island International Dragon Boat Festival

This year, the Fairway Gorge Paddling Club has renamed its Gorge Fest, which has been held on the first weekend in August for 20 years, becoming the Vancouver Island International Dragon Boat Festival, because the race has joined a series of five events that take place on Vancouver Island.

The club, a non-profit society, holds events in Victoria, Comox and Nanaimo.

The festival takes place this weekend, with 30 local, regional and international dragon boat teams racing in competitive and recreational divisions on the Selkirk waterway, between the Point Ellice Bridge and the Selkirk trestle.

“We wanted to get away from the complexity of staging an event on the Inner Harbour,” said Erik Ages, the festival’s race director. “We have ­created a hybrid event with new ­formats. We will still have 500-metre races, but we have added ­novelty races, with 100-metre and 250-metre relays, as well.”

There are 51 races scheduled, with the first one starting at 9 a.m. today.

It is free to watch. The main staging area will be near the water’s edge at the club, at 2940 Jutland Rd.

The event is a fundraiser for the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

• For more information, go to fgpaddle.com.

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival

The 27th annual ­Canada Dry Victoria Dragon Boat Festival takes place from Aug. 12 to 14.

It will have about 33 teams, 15 of them women-only, competing in 44 races next Saturday in the Inner Harbour, starting at 8:15 a.m. and continuing until 4:20 p.m.

Races will be suspended at various times throughout the day to accommodate the arrival and departure of the Coho and Victoria Clipper ferries.

The three-day festival attracts up to 80,000 visitors. While the festival is centred around paddling events, it also serves as a free community cultural festival, a showcase for ethnic groups in the city.

“The racing is great, but the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival is much more than that,” said Tony Joe, a board member of the ­society that runs the event.

“The event is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and is fully supported by the local Chinese community. The event helps to bring people together and contributes to the city’s cultural fabric.”

Among the cultural highlights is the eye-dotting ceremony for the boats, referred to as The Awakening of the Dragon ­Ceremony. It is believed that the dragon boat spirits sleep in the mountains.

Taoist priests bless the boats and awaken the dragons when they give the boats eyes, charging the boat and crew with the Spirit of the Dragon and the Goddess of the Sea.

Music and other entertainment have an ethnic vibe, with performances by Victoria Chinese Opera Club and Pearls of the South Pacific.

The event is free to watch, as are the family friendly performances and activities on site. The festivities start at 2 p.m. Friday at Ship’s Point in the Inner Harbour, with the closing ceremony at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The B.C. Cancer Foundation is a benefiting charity of the event.

• For more information go to victoriadragonboatfestival.com.

parrais@timescolonist.com

THIS WEEKEND AND NEXT

Vancouver Island International Dragon Boat Festival

When: Today and Sunday

Where: Fairway Gorge Paddling Club, 2940 Jutland Rd., Victoria

Website: fgpaddle.com

The Vancouver Island International Dragon Boat Festival hits the water for the first time this weekend. The event features 51 races, including ­­100- and 250-metre relays and 500-metre races. Racing begins 9 a.m. today and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Entertainment gets underway at 8:55 a,m. Saturday with a lion dance. There will also be taiko drummers, a carnation toss, the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers, and musical performances. Food trucks and vendors will be on site.

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival

When: Aug. 12-14

Where: Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Website: victoriadragonboatfestival.com

This is the 27th year for the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, which opens on Friday, Aug. 12. The event is centred around paddling events — dozens of teams are expected to compete — but also serves as a cultural festival featuring performances from several groups, from Cookeilidh to Pearls of the South Pacific and the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers, along with food and vendors. Things kick off with the traditional eye-dotting ceremony. The Lights of Courage fundraiser to support the B.C. Cancer Foundation will also be returning.

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