Event profile: Nanaimo Dragon Boat festival offers non-stop fun in a stunning environment

While temperatures warm and paddlers begin to shake off the rust from a winter dreaming of dragon boats, there is one thing that motivates them and that’s planning the summer festival season. And high atop many team’s bucket list races this year is the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival. 

This year will be the 18th running of the Save on Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival at Maffeo Sutton Park, June 10-12, on gorgeous Vancouver Island. 

This place is so gorgeous, last year’s race included a break in the fast-paced paddling action so a pod of killer whales could make their way through the course. Now, that’s stunning!

In 2017, James Hill, the captain of the Latitude 48 team, described the event as “probably the most fun race on the circuit,”  to a local newspaper. And it has only been getting better.

The Navy Dragon Anchors are a dragon boat team consisting of military members from the Maritime Pacific Command and they’ve been at every single Nanaimo festival since day one. It’s like that, experience the festival once and your hooked.

“We love the venue, the on-site staff and numerous volunteers who have made the festivals an enjoyable experience,” says team manager Bob Wiggins. “The festival communication with all participants and on-site personnel is second to none.”

The Navy Dragon Anchors have won the festival on three occasions and were silver medalists last year in the mixed division and we were awarded the gold for the 1,500-metre Guts and Glory race.

“Winning races is always fun, especially if it is close but meeting other teams from afar and within the local Nanaimo area has always been favourable,” Wiggins says. “And you can't beat the Beer garden either.”

The Guts and Glory race was new in 2019. It’s a 1500-metre timed race that includes five turns, which is held at the end of the normal racing schedule on Saturday and Sunday.

Every year there is something new, and the competition level seems to increase along with the good times. Now, teams from Oregon, California and other far-flung paddling hotbeds have Nanaimo’s festival on their radar. For instance, this year the DragonSprites team from Portland, Oregon were the first team to register.

Sue MacSporran is the captain of the MS Warriors team from Victoria, which boasts the very fitting motto “water is our happy place.”

She calls the Nanaimo Festival her favourite of the year.

“Everyone on the team loves the venue, the camaraderie with all of the teams, the crazy races (you never know how the water will be), going to the dance in the evening,” she says. “It is a really well-run festival.”

This year, the festival, which is capped at 72 teams will be attended by more than 1,700 athletes. Dragons of the World is the 2020 theme. Think mythical and ancient. Teams are always encouraged to participate in team tent decoration and team costume and dance competitions.

There will also be Light of Courage-paper lanterns available for sale before the festival that have a tag to write about an experience with cancer. The lanterns will then be hung during a special ceremony.

The Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society, who organizes this yearly event, donates 100% of the net proceeds to improve the treatment and care of breast cancer patients and their families.

All registration and festival information is available at  




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