The Dragon Riders, the Comox Valley’s first competitive youth dragon boat team, entered the Nautical Days competition for their first dragon boat race.
They soared beyond all expectations, winning their first race with ease. Coming in second in their second race and scoring another first in their third, the team took second place overall in the Mixed Teams division, topping their mentoring team, Prevailing Wins by 4/100th of a second.
Tiller Norm Flower described the excitement after the monumental win.
“I’ll never forget the scene on the boat after Dragon Riders won the first race of the day. There were no other team members in the boat — only the 15 Dragon Riders paddlers.
“After we crossed the finish line, I got the boat stopped. It was quiet except for the team catching their breath, and then I yelled out, ‘You won the race!’
“There was more noise than I had ever heard from them all summer. The high-fives and the smiles were so big; they were bouncing around with excitement. I wish I had a camera. It took a bit longer to get them settled down so we could salute the other teams and return to shore.”
Dragon Rider Jemma Samuels said, “The races were unreal. It’s funny; you think 350 metres are a few strokes, but by the end you are half dead.
“Something about the water and wind hitting you from every direction is worth it. Hearing your team roar after the victory is the best part.”
Colleague Keith Forsberg, added, “At first it was a bit difficult learning how to paddle properly, but once we all got into the rhythm and were working as a team it was a lot of fun. The first race at Nautical Days was a bit nerve-racking, but after that I felt my confidence increase and enjoyed it a lot.”
His sister Kirsten enthused, “It is fun to participate and I had so much fun at the races!”
Formed through an initiative of the Prevailing Wins dragon boat team, the youth team has trained weekly since May under the careful guidance of coaches Bill Jay and Peter Williams.
“I think that because of the success of Dragon Riders, we are already seeing other teams looking at sponsoring youth teams,” commented Jay. “This could be the start of a real movement in the Comox Valley and Campbell River — perhaps resulting in a Comox Valley Youth Regatta.”
The Dragon Riders worked with Prevailing Wins’ drummer Karen Petersen who trained with them since their inception. Petersen summed up the pride of the mentoring team.
“I was just thrilled to be part of their team, to be able to drum for them was a honour for sure,” she commented. “The youth just seemed to absorb direction so fast, and once I started joking with them and letting them see that it can be fun as well as hard work, they just excelled.
“The more I motivated them, the better they got! How could our team not be proud of them!”
Parents joined Prevailing Wins team members on the breakwater to watch Dragon Riders race. Brender Bieber, mother of paddler Lainey, said, “This was Lainey’s first time participating in dragon boating and my first-hand experience watching dragon boating. I was blown away at how well this team did in such a short period of time and how hard they dug in at race time. It was very exciting to watch—a real nail biter at times—and I was extremely proud!”
Gordon Forsberg commented on the value of his children’s participation in Dragon Riders: “My thoughts as a parent of two Dragon Riders (brother and sister) was, what a great way to have teens come together regardless of fitness levels or gender. There was no trying out or a team mentality that often comes with other competitive sports. Their success in the Nautical Day games will only help to inspire them as well as others their age to be a part of something positive.”
Clive Neumann, father of Dragon Rider Katinka, summed up the team’s first race experience: “The Dragon Riders are continuing a long 2,500 year old tradition. Dragon boating holds an irresistible attraction for its participants; it provides camaraderie, excitement and challenge. In their inaugural competition they placed second. For neophytes they excelled themselves. They demonstrated themselves to be a group of young resilient athletes with tremendous potential. I am sure that the Dragon Riders will be returning to the fray for many years to come.”
Dragon Riders are grateful to their sponsors—Prevailing Wins dragon boat team, Investors Group, Canadian Tire, and Lafarge North America—who helped them soar to unanticipated heights of excellence.