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Drums, paddles keep time in Steveston

Dragon Boat Festival grows by strokes and glides over past three years
Gene Figueroa
Gene Figueroa, 20, will be taking part at the fourth annual Steveston Dragon Boat Festival this Saturday, Aug. 24. The festival also features food, activities and live music.

At the first sound of the horn, they’ll be off — hundreds of dragon boats skimming across the waters during the fourth annual Steveston Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, Aug. 24.

Every 10 minutes throughout the day, teams of 20 will paddle to the steady rhythm of their drummer, beating at the end of the narrow, 50-foot long boats.

“Since the first festival, it’s grown by probably 300 per cent,” said general manager Ann Phelps, who’s been organizing the festival since its beginnings. “Now we have paddlers coming in from Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Washington State.

“It’s all about team work. The sport has a great social aspect, people can get together and make friends.”

It’s that experience that got 20-year-old Gene Figueroa hooked on the sport in the first place.

“The whole team dynamic of it is really engaging and I couldn’t participate in a better sport,” he said, ready for an early-morning practice session. “It’s been very challenging and a fun experience at the same time.”

Figueroa was roped into the sport in high school when there weren’t enough people for the team. He’s now gearing up to compete in the national championships in Victoria.

This year’s festival saw the maximum amount of paddlers entered, at 1,600, according to Phelps.

Besides the boaters, the day features cuisine from a variety of food trucks, a children’s arts and craft tent and entertainment performed by five musical acts on the main stage, starting at 11 a.m.

“We’re going to have five different bands playing a variety of world music, indicative of the community that we live in,” said Phelps. “There’ll be the Fiddlestix with Celtic music, the Maria Ho Quartet playing some jazz, and then some reggae as well, so it’s quite the mix.”

There will also be a variety of vendor booths, activities and a barbeque following the racers awards party in the afternoon.

“It’s going to be really fun and it’s really nice that it’s in Steveston,” said Phelps. “There’ll be that nice, small community feel, but there’ll also be a variety of people from all over who take part in it.”

— with a file from Philip Raphael