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What has 44 arms, 20 paddles and a drummer?

Coach Kenji Masuda notes that there are so many individual 'moments' during the Dragon Boat Festival that are worth 'all the training'

The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival has been raising money and bringing people together since 2003.

The upcoming August 27 event is looking to be the biggest to date.

Since its inception, the Barrie Public Library has hosted the festival and raised over $1.6 million for various local charities, including the Royal Victoria Hospital, COPE Dogs, Hospice Simcoe, Epilepsy Simcoe County and Redwood Communities. 

The library's Director of Business Development Christopher Vanderkruys believes this festival showcases just how important a library is to the city. 

“We got going on this [event] years ago as we were trying to raise money to help build the Painswick branch,” said Vanderkruys. “Now, this is about helping others in the community and showing that the library is still the hub of the city. When you think about it, we’re really the only waterfront festival that actually uses the waterfront.”

The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival is definitely a festival. Besides being able to cheer from the shore, folks can make a day of the scheduled activities at the event. There are live music concerts, children’s activities, story-time, an awards ceremony and even beer garden.

Vanderkruys hopes that despite all the great things happening on land, people will take a few moments to scream and cheer for those racing on the water.

“The teams that have preparing for so long and giving so much, they can really use the motivation,” said Vanderkruys. “Each team does about three races on the day. During their time on the water, they are giving everything they have. Trust me, at the end of the day you can’t even move.It’s very physically and emotionally draining.”

There are already 59 teams signed up and the event can host 60. So they are able to take one more team. Vanderkruys said that there have never been this many teams and that the event usually averages a strong 40 to 50 teams a year. The library's has its own team — The Dragon Tales — as do the Barrie Police. 

“The support from all over the city is heart-warming,” said Vanderkruys. “We’re so happy to have the Barrie Police back in the race and that’s a testament to the dedication to community by Chief Greenwood. Even then, it starts right at the top with the Barrie-first attitude of Mayor Jeff Lehman. There will be a host of dignitaries on hand that day and it shows us the love that everyone has for this festival.”

To prepare for the day’s events is a daunting task. This year’s races will be 300 metres and to get a decent time takes preparation. The dragon boats have their own dock at the foot of Bayfield and the boats are in the water from May to September for practices.

There are open paddles in the evening so that the teams of 22 (one drummer, one steer-person and 20 paddlers) can practice for the big event.

While the event is for charities and showcases teamwork and civic pride, every team still wants to win. It’s true that practice makes perfect, but a good coach can help perfect the practice.

Kenji Masuda is one of the coaches. He said that if you’re looking to put a team in it would be best to have someone show you how to do it.

“Most people treat it like canoeing and hold the paddle wrong and then don’t utilize the water enough,” said Masuda. “In order for your team to be not only successful but also get moving forward, you need to be coached properly.”

As one of seven coaches that are suggested on the BDBF website, Masuda has been involved with the festival since the first year in 2003 and has served as a Dock Marshall. The 45-year old coach has trained teams for five years and will take his knowledge into a high school program this coming school year. But for now, Masuda is happy to be involved with such an inspiring city festival.

“It’s called the Dragon Boat Races and there are awards at the end, but there are so many more moments during the day that are worth all the training,” said Masuda. “The candlelight ceremony in the morning in honour of those who passed away and being that most of these teams are racing in memory of someone, it gets emotional at times. Also, just seeing a company or group that put a team of co-workers and friends in to accomplish a time they wanted or just finish is a real joyful feeling.”

More information about the Dragon Boat Festival is available on the official website.  


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Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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