About 500 paddlers from Vancouver Island and the lower mainland sped along Victoria’s Gorge Waterway on Saturday for a day of racing, but also a major return to in-person competition for the athletes.
The Fairway Gorge Paddling Club’s first-ever Splash Dash had paddlers of all ages giving it their all on the Gorge as they tried to be the first vessel to cross the 250-metre sprint’s finish line. The competitors paddled in solo, double and six-person outrigger canoes, as well as 22-person dragon boats.
Paul Bucci, a spokesperson for the club, said the event also wanted to honour the long history of paddlers on the Gorge. Splash Dash hoped to emphasize how First Nations peoples have been canoeing on waterways across B.C. for thousands of years.
Bucci said being able to compete in person and safely has been a long time coming. “It’s exciting because we’ve been training alone for a long time and it’s a chance for us to see people we haven’t seen for more than a year.”
With ages from young to old and abilities ranging from Olympians to recreational competitors, Bucci said Splash Dash reflected the inclusiveness of paddling.
One dragon boat team, the Island Breaststrokers, consisted of only breast cancer survivors. A ceremony was held at Splash Dash to honour survivors and those who have been lost to breast cancer. Dragon boating has long been linked to breast cancer after a University of British Columbia sports medicine professor’s study found the activity had benefits for those being treated for the condition.
Those benefits are felt by Breaststrokers paddlers Heather Biasio and Ann Cubbin. Biasio, now in her sixteenth year of dragon boating, still cherishes the connections it brings to her life.
“That makes a team, when you’re all friends,” she said.
“It’s the energy, the exercise, the enthusiasm and just being with people you just have this fond connection with,” Cubbin added. “It’s not an individual that stands out, it’s the whole team that functions – we win as a team, we fail as a team.”
Splash Dash also included performances by the Wong Sheung Kung Fu Club lion dancers, Lekwungen traditional dancers, Uminari Taiko Drummers and other music acts.
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