Katy Milne (right) encourages paddlers of the Snappin' Dragons during a practice in the Gorge Waterway. The Snappin' Dragons are one of roughly 80 teams who will be competing in the 22nd annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival this weekend.

Local paddlers gearing up for dragon boat festival

When Katy Milne hopped into a dragon boat for her first session, she admits she didn't want to get back in after.

When Katy Milne hopped into a dragon boat for her first session, she admits she didn’t want to get back in after.

In 2001, Milne and a co-worker had seen information on novice dragon boating and decided to check it out. However, she quickly discovered it wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be.

“It’s not natural movement. It seems like a simple thing, but there’s a lot of intricacies to how you move and how to make the boat move effectively and especially trying to coordinate that with 20 other people is quite a challenging thing,” Milne said.

But instead of dropping out, Milne did the opposite — she volunteered to be the captain. Quickly her love for the sport grew and a few years later she became the team’s head coach.

For the past 15 years, Milne has been coaching and paddling with two dragon boat teams, the Snappin’ Dragons, a women’s boat, and Paddlers of the Fifth Moon, a mixed boat, spending about six hours a week on the water between April to August.

“I’ve met some fantastic people throughout both my teams and the other teams as well. There’s a lot of camaraderie within dragon boating,” said the 38-year-old, adding dragon boating is a very inclusive sport with everybody from breast cancer survivors to seniors citizens to youth boats.

“They’re all out for different reasons. I think it’s pretty cool that you can have that range of people in one sport.”

Milne is one of dozens of local paddlers who will be competing in the 22nd annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival this weekend. The three-day festival brings together more than 80 teams from Vancouver, Cowichan Bay, Edmonton, Tacoma, Comox, Prince George and Portland, and thousands of spectators to the city’s Inner Harbour.

As part of the festival, paddlers are also raising money for the B.C. Cancer Foundation. It’s a cause that’s close to Milne’s heart as she is a cancer researcher at the Deeley Research Centre in Victoria. Recently, renovations finished on a multi-million-dollar immunotherapy lab and researchers are gearing up to do clinical trials on patients.

“For me it’s special because I can actually see where the money goes. The pledge drive from the paddlers is helping support that. I’ve had a few paddlers in and around the lab to see where the money has gone and I think they’re all quite excited about that,” said Milne, adding her two teams have raised roughly $21,000 for the foundation.

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival runs from Friday, Aug. 12 to Sunday, Aug. 14. For more information visit victoriadragonboat.com.