Two of three teams from Base Borden made it to the championship division races for the Barrie Dragon Boat Festival
The 2023 Barrie Dragon Boat festival was filled with triumph, defeat and team building that goes beyond the waterfront in an experience that connected all corners of Simcoe County, including Base Borden.
Two out of the three teams in attendance made their way to the championship round of the race including the RCEMES Dragon Boat Team who came in third in the platinum division and the Wild River Rangers (3CRPG) who won the silver division with a time of one minute 39 seconds.
“I can say that I am so proud of our team, from their rapid response to participate, their commitment to the team not only during practice, but their delivery during race day,” said 3CRPG dragon boat Team Captain, Warrant Officer Tiffany Webber.
“It goes to show that anyone regardless of their paddling, let alone dragon boat experience, can achieve much higher results then one would expect; to me this is heart driven, which feeds the mind and body. This experience was rewarding in every aspect regardless of where we placed. We are one as a team and we delivered and I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of us.”
The Dragon Boat Festival was organized by the Barrie Public Library and has been going on for the last 19 years and is back in full swing since the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“[The Dragon Boat Festival] was also a great team builder for Base Borden,” said Director of business and development for the Barrie Public Library, Christopher VanderKyrus. “When you think of the military side, it is team building. You’re one team and for the rest of Barrie and Simcoe County, they just continue to participate no matter what. It’s a great day to be here.”
VanderKyrus has been part of the team that organizes the Dragon Boat Festival for over 19 years and has watched race participation grow.
“It’s just nice to see so many people out and enjoying what we have in Barrie, he said. “We have a beautiful waterfront and beautiful parks. I think that’s the biggest part and we want people to learn to work together.”
Split over 10 rows, dragon boats can hold up to 20 paddlers and are accompanied by a steer at the back of the boat who controls the direction the vessel is moving in and gives commands.
The paddlers closer to the front of the boat are called pacers and their job is to maintain rhythm and timing for the rest of the team. The middle of the boat is significantly wider and requires strong paddlers to be the engine while the back paddlers or “rockets” control the fast-moving water that’s constantly being pushed their way.
At the very front of the boat is the drummer who receives and sets the cadence of the front paddlers by playing a drum to help establish pace.
Sergeant Kyle Olson just joined the 3CRPG unit a few months ago and was on the dragon boat while his team won the silver division. The experience is something that’s bringing him closer to his new coworkers.
“This dragon boat race allowed a chance to see your coworkers as people outside of uniform or rank. It was cool to learn people’s interests or quirks that make them, them,” he said.
“Definitely wasn’t what I expected, but it was a very cool and unique experience. Really enjoyed the energy of the team and other participants. A true representation of ‘Esprit de Corps’.”
Not everyone on the boats, however, were members of a designated team.
Jeff Aldridge is the owner of Corporate Recess, a team building dragon boat company who teaches groups of paddlers to establish a rhythm, when to reach further with the paddle and how to work together; all while steering the boat.
“Today we’re at the back of the boat, teaching and steering the teams for their big race. They’ve been paddling all summer and prepping for this big event and it’s all for charity,” Aldridge said.
Organizations are free to hire Aldridge and his team for private dragon boating events to help boost morale and create a bond between teammates.
“I think dragon boating is such a beautiful sport and so inclusive,” said Aldridge. “There are people who paddle from 12 years old, all the way up to 80 years old and there’s a seat for every body shape, every skill level in the boat and you only paddle as fast as your slowest paddler or your most beautiful paddler. It’s a pleasure to bring teams out and dragon boating is all about paddling together.”
Instructing such a large team of mostly inexperienced paddlers can be a challenge, but with the right amount of time and effort, Aldridge has helped teams like the 3CRPG learn the sport and excel at it in the months leading up to race day.
“So how can you work with 20 people, jam them in a boat, teach them the form and then just stay together and stay in unison? Once everybody is in sync, the boat actually lifts up on the water and you feel this glide and this flow and it’s when you all feel in harmony with each other,” Aldridge said. “It’s a really beautiful feeling. So I’m grateful to be able to provide that and to provide people an opportunity to explore Kempenfelt Bay and the beautiful powers of the water.”
By: Caleb Hooper