Gabriola Dragon Boaters in second season

Krysta Reed

Sounder News

Wednesday, July 31 2019

Gabriola Dragon Boat Club supports healthy living, connection and physical exercise. Now in their second season, the eclectic group of dragon boaters are fine-tuning their skills as they prepare for their first regatta.

Jo Helton started the Gabriola Dragon Boat Club in 2017 after purchasing a 6-16 dragon boat from Harrison Hot Springs. The 45-foot boat holds 22 people and is ideal for training. 

Helton said, “I bought the boat with a vision. I wanted to not only have a team, but also for it to be a community boat.”

Helton started dragon boating when she was fifty-eight years old. 

She said, “Dragon boating gave me a quality of life and empowerment.

“I was at a very low time in my life, post cancer [and] I started dragon boating; in three months started feeling better. It physically and psychologically saved me.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the sport.”

Currently, there are 30 full-time members with ages ranging from thirty to eighty. The team plans to purchase the dragon boat from Helton within the next five years and to grow the club to about 60 members. The club wants to eventually have two teams - competitive and non-competitive - with four lessons each week. 

The club is training for their first regatta in Comox on August 4, where fifteen teams will compete in a 450-metre race. Jane Mann is the club’s new coach and is training the team for the big race. Mann has extensive experience with local, regional and national dragon boating.

The Gabriola Dragon Boaters out on Silva Bay for a practice. The club is in its second season on Gabriola Island. Krysta Reed photo


Mann said, “I’ve had amazing coaching and it’s nice to share what I’ve learned. I just love being with this group.”

Helton said, “Their skill level has gone from knowing nothing about dragon boating, to being in tune and cohesive.

When asked what the team’s goals are for the regatta, Helton said, “To train as hard as we can and come out of it feeling we’ve put everything into it.”

Lesley Appel, President of the Gabriola Dragon Boat Club, said, “We just want them to have a good time.”

Helton said, “The ultimate goal in dragon boating is to be twenty people that are in sync. It’s such an achievement to do it. It’s like a nirvana - that perfection of being on water and gliding.”

The club welcomes new members, both men and women; offers two trial lessons free of charge. Annual memberships are $150 for two practices each week or $75 for one practice each week. Paddles and PFD lifejackets are supplied. Practices are held at Silva Bay Marina on Mondays and Thursdays starting at 6:00 p.m. The dragon boat season runs from April to October.

Helton said, “It’s the cheapest membership I’ve seen for dragon boating.”

Appel said, “The people that support the club have helped to keep the membership fee low.”

The club has a formal sponsorship with Silva Bay, where their boat is moored free of charge and their business name appears on the team’s navy-blue T-shirts.

People for a Healthy Community awarded the club with a grant of $900 and the Gabriola Recreation Society awarded the club with a grant of $200 for maintenance of the boat, and provided the team with paddles.

Appel said, “I’d like to see more people and more community involvement. I don’t want to see it as some exclusive team.”

Dragon boating on Gabriola is truly a sport for all ages. Marlene Noseda, who is 78-years-of-age, is one of the club’s newest members.

Noseda said, “Well it’s a nice club, everybody here has heart, but, to be quite honest, at my age to learn something new and get good at it is a bonus.”

Natalie Pehar joined the team in 2018. Pehar said, “It’s a brand new sport for me.” 

When asked what she most enjoys about dragon boating, Pehar said, “Getting to go out on the water. It’s fun, everyone laughs. It’s physical and you get good shoulder strength. We really work hard.”

Gabriola Dragon Boat Club will be having a Garage Sale and Bake Sale on August 10, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Carmen Crescent (off Stephens Ave. by the RCMP station). All funds raised will go to support the club. For more information on the club, visit