For a few brief dips of their paddles in Burrard Inlet last summer, the Nothin’ Dragon Masters dragon boating squad was off the water for the better part of two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So when the 20 paddlers — aged 50 and over — climbed back into their 40-foot craft in March, team president Brian Kenny says the excitement was palpable.
“The feeling of being around somebody again that you haven’t seen in almost two years, it was surreal. It was cold, but it doesn’t matter.”
Gliding across the placid water, the boat surging forward with every united pull by its paddlers, was the payoff for almost two years of dryland activities like fitness and yoga sessions conducted over the Zoom online meeting platform, along with group team-building efforts like bottle and clothing drives for local charitable organizations, that had kept everyone pointed in the same direction.
On April 23 at Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park, the Nothin’ Dragon Masters will put their dedication to the test as the club hosts the first big races of the season, and the first since COVID-19 public health restrictions shut them down just weeks prior to the 2020 Inlet Spring Regatta.
Kenny said the hiatus has challenged some teams to stay afloat — 33 boats are entered for the 2022 regatta compared to 44 three years ago.
Even the Nothin’ Dragons had some difficulties when both of its craft were sunk by the torrential rain and windstorms last November and only one can race again.
But getting ready to host some 800 paddlers, plus their support teams and spectators, has put the pep back in everyone’s step.
Kenny believes it should be quite a party.
The beer garden by Port Moody’s Yellow Dog Brewing is back, as are a half-dozen food trucks offering fare from mini-doughnuts to lobster rolls.
A vendor village is set to feature everything from paddling equipment to workout gear and gift items. There will be live entertainment on stage and roaming the grounds, as well as yoga sessions with special paddling-specific moves to help keep racers limber.
The races themselves will be conducted in 200 metre sprints just off shore.
Teams will compete in mixed or women-only divisions with the top-three finishers in each receiving carved wooden medals designed by First Nation artist Glen Rabena.
Kenny said the great thing about dragon boating is its inclusivity.
Paddlers come in all ages — from their youthful 20s to spry seniors — as well as sizes and abilities.
They’re united by their desire to work together toward a common goal, and have a good time doing it.
“We have really eclectic brew of people coming,” he said. “There is no larger sporting event that happens in Port Moody.”
Admission to the regatta is free for spectators. A schedule and more information can be found on the Inlet Spring Regatta’s website.