In how many sports will you find a 72-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman competing in the same event?
On Squamish’s Dragon Boat Association’s team, you might find them paddling together in the same 48-foot boat. Paddler Janice Hall was one of 10 original paddlers when the club was founded in 2009.
“I’d never tried it before, but I’ve always been a water sports person,” said Hall. “I like the team aspect of it, and I like it when we all meld together as you’re supposed to. It’s quite a fantastic feeling actually. It takes a lot of practice to achieve that.”
In the summer season starting around March and going into October, the team is out practicing up to three times a week.
The Squamish club regularly medals in regatta competitions across the province and the western U.S. Coach Macario “Macky” Sumalileng acknowledges that perfecting the critical timing of such a diverse group of paddlers can be a real challenge.
It doesn’t matter if a team is composed entirely of burly biceps or unathletic amateurs — if they can’t row together, they won’t be going anywhere fast. “It’s very hard to get everyone paddling as one mind together,” said Sumalileng. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, the team has set a goal to compete in the Philippines for 2019.
The team’s founding coach, Carl Mendoza, and current coach Sumalileng, both competed as paddlers and coaches in the Philippines before moving to B.C. Returning at the helm of a foreign team would be both exciting and intimidating.
“Over there Dragon Boat is much more than a sport, it’s more of a way of life,” said Sumalileng. “It’s always been the dream of our coaches, so that dream has been passed on to us,” said Hall. Relatively new to the team on her second season, Meaghan Candy said she was drawn to the water after relocating to Squamish two years ago from New Zealand.
“It’s really affordable, and you don’t need a lot of gear – there’s already a team and a boat,” she explained. “You can just show up, and they’ll take you on, and it’s a really good workout and a way to get out on Howe Sound if you don’t have a lot of resources.”
Dragon Boat races have been a part of Chinese history for the past 2,000 years, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation. Today, paddlers compete around the world in both competitive and recreational “festival” events.
Onlookers often observe from the shore in Squamish, where the green-scaled practice boat draws pointing and whispering as if a real dragon had surfaced from the depths of the Cattermole Slough.
While they take their practice and their competition seriously, the paddlers are community members first and athletes second.
They’ve offered water tours to residents as part of the annual Wind Festival, and in a couple of rare mishaps, Dragon Boat training sessions have turned into rescue missions on the sound — including towing a sailboat last summer and giving a ride to a few wayward kite surfers. •