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First dragon boat in the Comox Valley celebrates 20 years

Comox Dragon Boat Festival goes June 11

Twenty years ago, a group of determined women had an extraordinary goal: to bring the new popular sport of dragon boating to the Comox Valley by creating the first team - a breast cancer survivor team and buying a 22-seat boat.

Today, the legacy continues to grow from the vision of the first Comox Valley Dragon Boat Society. The Hope Afloat Canada team and their blue spotted dragon boat became the new venue as recent research at UBC had determined breast cancer survivors could greatly benefit from building back their health through upper strength paddling in a supportive environment.

Today, 10-plus dragon boat teams – cancer survivors, women, men, mixed, youth and recreational paddlers – call our waters ‘home,’ and hundreds of experienced and new paddlers enjoy the exercise year-round.

In 2002, Iona Campagnolo, then lieutenant governor of B.C., graciously dotted the eye of the boat’s ornate dragon head, officially awakening the sleeping dragon, along with blessings from Buddhist Monk Tsundu Tenzin and First Nation Chief Wedlidi Speck.

Speck returns this year to give the boat and team the First Nation blessing and Dotting of the Eye ceremony for the 20th anniversary celebration.

Over the span of 20 years, Hope Afloat has competed in many regattas and festivals across the Island, and around Canada and the U.S. Some members have competed nationally and internationally at advanced skill levels. Lots of ribbons and memories to cherish.

For those in the boat (40-75 years old) at weekly practices, we represent the ongoing fight against cancer, and with each paddle we dip, we persevere. The drummer’s seat travels with the boat on race days with engraved names of the guardians no longer with us. Their memories, spirit and strength remind us of our purpose. As the sport has grown, we welcome all women with any cancer diagnosis to live full and active lives by participating in the sport of dragon boating.

Hope Afloat team members and alumni participate in community fundraisers and awareness projects throughout the year such as Tag Day for Cancer Awareness, Rotary Club Book Sales and Tour de Rock Cops for Cancer.

To mark 20 years, the public is invited to join the team at the Comox Marina on Saturday, May 7 from 1-4 p.m. as we once again ceremoniously dot the eye of the dragon’s head on our boat. Past and current members, and alumni will be in attendance, and local dignitaries and the public. Afterwards, memorabilia will be on display and cupcakes served at the Spinnaker Room. Free rides with the Hope Afloat Canada team for anyone 12 and older run from 2-4 p.m. Life jackets and paddle equipment will be provided.

Hope Afloat Canada will be competing for the first time since 2019 due to COVID. The new Vancouver Island 5 stop race series hosted by the Fairway Gorge Paddling Club of Victoria and the Town of Comox will be held in the Comox Harbour at the Comox Dragon Boat Festival. The club looks forward to a new race format with more than 30 teams competing on Saturday, June 11. The festival will support the charitable work of the BC Cancer Foundation.

Come cheer us on. Paddles Up!