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Avalon Dragons ready for SunSplash Paddle in Paradise this weekend

Excited paddlers during a dragon boat race. Dragon boats are approximately 40ft long.
Excited paddlers during a dragon boat race. Dragon boats are approximately 40ft long.

If you find yourself unsure of exactly what dragon boat racing is, you’re not alone. Hannah Hanlon, chair of the annual SunSplash Paddle in Paradise festival, told The Telegram that it’s not unusual for people to have no idea what dragon boat racing actually is.  

Breast cancer survivors from the Avalon Dragons paddling during a dragon boat race. Boats can hold 22 people: 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steersperson.

The best way to find out, she says, is to head down to the festival at Octagon Pond on Aug. 19 and see for yourself.

The festival is held yearly by the Avalon Dragons, a group of 73 breast cancer survivors sharing a common goal: to live an active lifestyle while supporting one another and raising awareness about breast cancer.

The group was the first dragon boating team in Newfoundland and Labrador, branching out and starting a second team in central Newfoundland in 2016. They were also the first group of dragons in Canada to build their own wooden boat ‘ which Hanlon says they are very protective over.

“We have six fiberglass boats, and our wooden one. She’s not used anymore than she has to be, but she will be out for the festival.”

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With 26 teams on the water this weekend, prizes will be awarded to the fastest team, the team with the most spirit, and the team and the individual with the most pledges. People should also keep an eye out for the dragon itself — a boat complete with a detachable dragonhead and tail that only makes appearances during festivals.

Away from the races, face painting, games and food vendors line the shore for the whole family to take advantage of.

At 10 a.m., the Chinese community in St. John’s will perform a traditional Chinese Lion Dance —– complete with costumes and music.

Dragon boat racers on the water. During races, members can always be spotted from a mile away, sporting funky pink accessories in support of breast cancer awareness.

Fun fact, dragon boat racing originated in China during ancient times, making the Paddle in Paradise festival a prime spot for locals to show off some Chinese culture.

The most anticipated event of the day, however, is the flower ceremony.

Around 11 a.m. on festival day, the Avalon Dragons’ have a survivor fun race, where all breast cancer survivors hop into a boat and paddle together in solidarity. Once on the water, all boats join together and a commentator on shore says a few words.

Paddlers throwing their carnations in the water during a flower ceremony.

“It’s usually a woman who has survived breast cancer, as well,” Hanlon explained, “so she’ll say a few words about breast cancer awareness, the importance of celebrating the lives of survivors, offering hope to those still battling cancer, and we always honour those that have, unfortunately, lost their fight with the disease.

“We have this beautiful music that plays, and each paddler holds a carnation above their head and holds the hand of the person next to them. Then when the music ends, they throw their flowers into the water and just let them remain floating.”

“It’s very emotional … I mean I’m getting emotional right now just talking about it.”

Hanlon says that even if people only make it long enough to see the flower ceremony, it’s worth their while.

“Anyone who comes out and is there for the carnation ceremony, they just think it’s so amazing, and every year we have followers who come back just to see that and nothing else.”

“There’s always somebody,” she said. “You, I, even if we aren’t touched by breast cancer ourselves, everyone knows somebody who is. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to come out and show support during the festival — it means something.”

 

victoria.plowman@thetelegram.c

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