Don Mulhall couldn’t have asked for a better weekend of racing.
The director for Penticton Dragonboat Festival watched under the blue skies on Saturday, Sept. 9, as 76 teams from as far as Calgary and Victoria came out fast and furious to kick off the 22nd edition of the end-of-summer event.
By Sunday afternoon, under those same blue skies, thousands were out to take in the final races and the fun atmosphere along Skaha Lake beach.
“With almost 2,000 athletes coming from all over B.C. and Alberta, it was beyond our expectations,” said Mulhall after the festival concluded.
“Athletes absolutely love our festival. We had perfect racing conditions both days. It was great to see lots of locals coming down to Skaha Lake and enjoying the festival.”
“We kind of built our own little village here,” Mulhall said when asked of the dozens of teams who travelled more than 300 kilometres to make it to Penticton.
Now into its 22nd year, the festival has become like an annual reunion of friends, said Mulhall.
“It’s a pretty cool community we have and there’s a ton of people having a great time.”
The 500 metre races went every 11 minutes, with teams on Saturday aiming to qualify for Sunday’s finals.
Dragonboat racers range in age from 19 to nearly 90 years old.
Every year, local breast cancer survivor team Survivorship put on an emotional pink carnation ceremony to honour those fighting cancer, survivors and loved ones lost. This year, nine cancer survivor boats took part and hundreds stood on shore.
But it’s not just the races that make the festival special, said Mulhall.
After all, when adding up how much combined time one team could spend in the water this weekend, it comes out to only around 10 minutes. And that’s why beyond the competitiveness in the lake, all the hours that teams from across Western Canada spend with one another remain a festival highlight for Mulhall.
“About 1 p.m. on Sunday, that’s when the community just lights up,” Mulhall explained. “Many teams have finished their races, they meet at the beer garden and enjoy…it’s really a community and such a social group.”
Mulhall is one of many local individuals who help make the Penticton Dragonboat Festival a reality every year.
Along with the dozens of volunteers, there are also people in the water who keep time on each of the more than 300 races.
Among those sitting in a boat, watching the 76 teams hit the lake is Liam Mulhall, who’s responsible for ensuring dragon boats are ready to race safely.
“It’s great to see how happy the festival makes everyone here, so enjoyable and a great place to be,” he said.
— with files from Monique Tamminga