Pemberton dragon boat teams ready for premier Vancouver festival 

5,000 paddlers are praying for good weather, no wind and a tide that is going out fast

Pemberton's Laoyam Eagles Junior Dragon Boat Team and the Pemberton Spirit Women's Team are off to Vancouver on Friday to compete in one of the largest sporting events in the world – the Alcan International Dragon Boat Festival from June 22 to 24.

It’s the second largest festival of its kind in North America, with other dragon boat races held in Halifax, New York, Boston, Stratford, Toronto, Philadelphia, Regina, and Calgary. On the West Coast there are three festivals in California, two in Oregon and Washington, and, of course, the main event Vancouver. Festivals in Kelowna and Victoria are growing every year and there are several other small regattas held around the provinces and states.

Despite the fact that the Toronto Dragon Boat Festival (the largest festival in North America) has been scheduled for the same weekend as the Vancouver event, there is still more competition than ever.

The competitive teams will be hardest hit by this scheduling conflict, because they won’t have the usual opportunity to compete in both to get in shape for the Worlds and to see who their competition is nationally.

As it stands, however there are more teams than ever before registered for the Alcan festival – 180 teams altogether, including a record 18 junior division teams.

The champion Laoyam Eagles are registered in both the Recreational Division and the Junior Division. It will be interesting to see how they place in the open Recreational category – the Eagles are the only junior team paddling against the adults and in past races they have posted times that would have put them ahead of most competitive teams.

The Eagles first race is at 8:36 a.m. and the Pemberton Spirit will race at 10:30 a.m.. The results from these heats and every subsequent heat will determine their ranking and seeding for the next round.

There are a wide range of teams in each race and the Eagles will face, amongst others, a team of university students – Team Ruckus posted some of the fastest team times at the latest regatta.

The Eagles’ rivals at Eric Hamber Secondary, who did well last year with almost an all-rookie team, are back again after winning a recent regatta with consistent times.

Centennial School, another arch rival who beat the Eagles in their first race in Burnaby three weeks ago, is even tougher after attending the festival in Portland.

In addition, the Eagles will have to face three good teams from Portland: the Sun Dragons, who were chosen to represent the U.S. Juniors at the Worlds; the Franklin Aquarockets, a tough team that beat the adults last year; and the Cleveland Dragon Tails, a team with green hair that the Eagles only beat by a second last year.

The Junior semi-finals will take place at 4 p.m., and the finals will be held on Sunday at around 10:30 so many teams can be home in time for their graduation ceremonies.

The Pemberton Spirit team also has a hard competition ahead of them with a tough "Abreast" boat in the race and a couple of very strong club teams, including the False Creek Women. The Spirit have posted some excellent times recently, however, including a top five performance at a recent regatta in Richmond.

Based on their success, the Spirit Team will then move on to the semi finals on Sunday in either A, B, C or D Recreational Divisions. There are four semi-final heats with 36 boats in each, and the finals for each division will be held in the early afternoon on Sunday. If the teams can reach a C or B final they will be doing really well.

The women will also be racing again in the afternoon in the first women's heat of the day. Here they will be facing some strong teams including the Diesel Fish and the False Creek Women.

In the other heat are some more extraordinary teams – Wasabi Women, Team Masala, the Acme Dragons, and BAD Chix with Stix (a San Francisco Bay area club whose mixed team beat the Eagles by half a second at home last year), the TD women (TD and Scotiabank have strong teams), and the Canadian Construction Women.

Apart from the racing, the festival offers great food, fun prizes, games, fabulous world music, lots of free stuff and some of the best people watching anywhere. Live reports on progress will be phoned in regularly to Mountain FM, but mountain locals are welcome to come to Vancouver and cheer on the Eagles and Spirit teams.

For more information, visit the Web site at www.canadadragonboat.com.

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