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Dragon Boating In Pemberton, BC

Photo by Dave Steers

Posted on Thursday, June 06, 2013

Dragon BoatWhen driving up from Whistler, one of the first landmarks you will see within the borders of Pemberton is the small, beautiful, marsh-like One Mile Lake. And if you happen to drive by on a Wednesday afternoon or Sunday morning, chances are you will see -- and hear -- the Pemberton Canoe Club dragon boat teams out for their biweekly practice.

Near Legendary Status

The Pemberton dragon boat crews have become near-legendary, both locally and abroad. The Laoyam Eagles and Laoyam Falcons, the club’s Junior A and B teams, respectively, are widely known throughout the paddling community as some of the world’s top junior teams. They have competed and won at world championships seven times, and have won the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival -- North America’s biggest and best yearly festival -- the past thirteen years in a row.

Takes a Community - an Olympic Gold Medalist Helps Too

How did this small community get such a level? Paddling was brought to the Pemberton community twenty years ago thanks to the effort of Olympic medalist Dr Hugh Fisher. It began as a junior program, but has been so successful is spawned multiple adult crews as well. The junior program allows primary school students in Grade 6 and 7 to get a taste for paddling, and in Grade 8 (once they reach high school) they are eligible to fight for a spot on in the Eagles boat -- the prestigious A boat. The crews are also supported by the Pemberton community. Through events, fundraising, and support, the whole community is behind the young paddlers.

Dragon boating is a unique sport. Fitting one drummer, one steers person (or cox), and twenty paddlers, the boat requires paddlers to take rapid synchronized strokes to the beat of the drum. Races are usually 500m long in a straight lines, with anywhere from three to eight boats competing per heat. Longer races of 2000m are also popular, sometimes called a “Guts & Glory.”

Everyone is Welcome to Dragon Boat

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the Pemberton paddling crews is its non-exclusivity; everyone is welcome to join a team! Through vigorous and intense training, all paddlers are brought up to a Laoyam-worthy standard of paddling in technique, strength, and character. 

The sport’s popularity is rising every year. This year, the Pemberton Canoe Club will be entering three teams into the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival due to the sheer number of paddlers. Also entering from the Pemberton Canoe Club is a Men’s crew, a Women’s crew, and a Mixed crew. This year’s Alcan begins on June 21, and we will be enthusiastically following and cheering on our paddlers once again.