Paddling on: Gander woman heads to Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival

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Pat Oake says she wasn’t a boat lover until she tried dragon boating. She’s excited to try the sport on ice this month at the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival. (Pat Oake)

Pat Oake says she never liked boats. But dragon boats are a whole different story.

This week Oake will be one of the Newfoundlanders taking part in one of the largest ice dragon boat festivals in North America

Oake is a member of the Newfoundland Puffins, who will be racing in the Ottawa Dragon Boat Ice Festival Feb. 7 and 8 on the Rideau Canal skateway. 

Boats get equipped with skate-like blades and competitors propel themselves along the course using spiked ice picks.

“Last year, some girls from the Avalon Dragons, went up to try it out,” said Oake.

“And this year they’re going back and they needed an extra paddler. So they called out and said, ‘You know anyone wants to come?’ And I said ‘Yep, that’s me.'”

The Ottawa Ice Dragon Festival was first held in 2017. It’s one of the largest of its kind in North America. (Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival)

Oake is a member of the Central Dragons based in Appleton.  

She started paddling a few years back, with fellow breast cancer survivors from the area.

Oake is a 22-year survivor of the disease and said the sport has been great for her physical and mental health — plus it’s a great way to make friends. When she learned there was a winter version of the sport, Oake jumped at the chance to do it. 

“When I saw it, I couldn’t believe that they were actually dragon boating on ice,” said Oake. 

“I thought, ‘Oh my god … like this got to go on my bucket list.’ I really really want to try that.” 

Oake said she hasn’t seen what the ice dragon boat looks like yet, but has watched many videos to prepare. She’s also been staying active by snowshoeing five days a week, along with her regular exercise classes.

Pat Oake will be one of nine racing with the Newfoundland Puffins. (CBC)

The right outfit

Oake says the time of year has to dictate what she and the other members of her team will wear. “First of all, they told you to make sure you dress warm and you dress in layers,” she said.

“You don’t need to bring anything [else].” 

This year, the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival will host 100 teams from all over the world, made of teams of all women as well as mixed. There will also be a special race for breast cancer survivors. 

The Newfoundland Puffins will even have a woman joining them from Australia. 

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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