It was a big return for the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, with 59 teams competing on Skaha Lake over the weekend.
“Everybody is stoked to be back. We've had a couple of smaller events. But this is kind of the big event, I guess, for the Okanagan and around the province," Race Director Don Mulhall said.
"This is our 23rd year. So it started in the very beginning, it was actually on Okanagan Lake and it was a bit of a much smaller event. And it was more training our local teams to experience racing, and then it would go off to bigger festivals.”
As the festival grew in popularity, it was moved down south to Skaha Lake and expanded to two days.
With each team loaded with 26 paddlers on the roster, Mulhall said there is estimated to be 1500 to 1600 athletes in town this weekend.
“And I'm hoping as many and maybe more spectators come down to watch the event.”
In their first year, the Dragon Boat festival saw 12 teams come out to compete. The highest turnout since has been 80.
“This year we're just under 60 and we're happy with that. The sport itself, it's a challenge to organize 26 people, and especially after COVID, those teams may have gone off and done other things.”
Mulhall said he’s hoping to continue to see this festival and the sport grow year by year
"I always say it's a great entry-level sport, as much as anybody can get into it, and experience a little bit of success. And then if they want to get better and better and better, there are lots of opportunities.”
Each of the 59 teams will race four times, two times on Saturday, with the semi-final and then a final race on Sunday.
“There's a race happening every 12 minutes. There's always something going on, there's lots of excitement, and teams are cheering as you can see everybody's loading and unloading. We have lots of vendors, lots of food, and a beer garden.”
The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival is free to watch and continues on Sunday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.