By Mark Squibb / September 1, 2023
Inclement weather this past Saturday forced the Avalon Dragons, a dragon boating team comprised of breast cancer survivors, to cancel this year’s Sunsplash Paddle-in-Paradise Avalon Dragon Boat Festival.
“Rain would make paddling uncomfortable; the wind made it unsafe,” said chairperson Alice Mannion. “So, that was the deciding factor. But having to make that decision 6:30 Saturday morning was very difficult.”
Mannion said many of the teams that register are not experienced teams that paddle year-round, but ‘festival teams’ that only get a crash course in dragon boating before the festival. The high winds may have proved too much for inexperienced paddlers to handle.
“We’ve been very fortunate that this is the first time we’ve ever had to cancel and hopefully it will be the last,” she added.
Mannion said that unfortunately, due to the logistics of hosting a race of this calibre (some 360 people registered for this year’s race), the group was unable to reschedule and had to cancel the festival outright.
She said years ago the group had discussed setting an alternate date in case of weather, but found that paddlers could not commit to two mornings. The group also brings in officials from outside the province, and the Town of Paradise commits a number of its own resources to make the festival possible, so rescheduling it for a later date poses too many logistical challenges, said Mannion.
Despite the disappointment of Saturday, the Avalon Dragons and Rock Island Dragons, two teams with more experience under their belts, were able to hit the pond early Sunday morning, when winds tend to be calmer, along with Dragons Abreast, a team of breast cancer survivors who flew in from Ontario specifically for the festival.
This year’s festival saw a marked increase in registration, with 18 teams, each comprised of 20 members, registered for the big day. The festival was set to be the largest since the pandemic.
“We pretty much had double the number of teams from 2022,” said Mannion. “We were so thrilled to see the community come back, and we hope to have a bigger and better festival next year.”
The festival doubles as the group’s major annual fundraiser. Besides the races, there was to be face painting, Chinese letter writing, games of chance, a pondside Carnation Ceremony with Lieutenant Governor Judy Foote, and a traditional Chinese dance.
Folks who wish to lend a hand can donate online at Canada Helps, or send a cash donation to the group.
Registration for the festival typically opens in February, and Mannion said any festival team interested in paddling on a regular basis need only to reach out to the Avalon Dragons.
Prior to COVID four teams would paddle on a regular basis.