Dream realized: Dragon boats help launch paddle club

by | Jun 13, 2024

July 1st Floats success brings new sport to Woodstock waterfront

When Woodstock Paddling Club board member Mary Ann Walker saw Woodstock High School students take to the river in dragon boats for the first time, she got goosebumps.  

“I had shivers. I just had shivers,” said Walker.

Woodstock High School students practice in one of the Woodstock Paddle Club’s newly acquired dragon boats. (Lisa Porter photo)

Students were the first to practice and race the boats when they prepared for and competed in Moncton for the Greater Moncton Dragon Boat Festival on May 31 and June 1.

A year ago, purchasing dragon boats and setting up a local paddling club were just dreams. Now, they’re a reality, complete with community teams, scheduled races, and dedicated sponsors.

Lisa Porter knows how unique and addictive dragon boat racing is. She first got involved in the sport when she lived in Toronto. When she moved to Woodstock, she saw how underutilized the waterfront was and wanted to bring the sport to western New Brunswick, hoping to bring water-based activities to Woodstock’s downtown. 

Porter is the Woodstock Paddling Club president. She, Walker, and a dedicated team of volunteers worked hard last year to launch July 1st Floats as a fundraising event to get dragon boats into the Meduxnekeag and St. John rivers. 

The event was a huge success, and organizations and businesses stepped up afterward to help bring dragon boat racing to Carleton County.

“Rotary jumped on this really early. They offered their support (to purchase the boats and the door for their new shed) and it made all the difference,” said Porter.

The paddling club’s shed is located behind NBCC. College students helped build the storage facility that holds the club’s equipment. MLA Bill Hogan and Horizon Health helped purchase the building supplies for the shed, and Greg and Sara MacPherson funded the PFDs or ‘Manu-life jackets.’  

All aboard! Woodstock High School students get ready for an early morning dragon boat practice. (Lisa Porter photo)

“It’s been easy, in a sense that people have been excited; they see the vision and are jumping on board with us in offering support,” said Porter.

Funds raised on July 1st Floats this year will be split between the Woodstock Paddling Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Carleton York. 

Porter and her husband, Mark, in particular, have been working on the dragon boat project daily for weeks to prepare for Canada Day.

“She’s done 99 per cent of this,” offered Walker. “My job is spreading the word and getting the sponsorships for July 1st Floats.”

Eventually, the group says they’ll have two separate events: July 1st Floats and a stand-alone dragon boat festival. 

“We think we can achieve this in the next couple of years,” said Porter, pointing to the group’s momentum in just one year.

So far, ten teams have signed up for the July 1 races, and the call for community members to join the Woodstock teams filled two boats with record speed. 

Woodstock High School teacher and Woodstock Paddle Club President Lisa Porter with students at the dragon boat races in Moncton. (Lisa Porter photo)

The committee has hired a company out of Montreal called 22 Dragons to help with racing logistics. 

“Where it’s our first race, they are helping us organize. They are bringing in five staff members, they’ll be setting up start and finish-line cameras and tents. They’ll be recording all the races and timing everything,” said Porter.

“The biggest expense with this year’s festival is bringing them in, but when you are having something like this. You have to have the proper things to get people on board and make sure everything goes right,” said Walker

“We talked about it, and thought, is his worth the expense,” added Porter. “We are just starting and want to introduce the sport. But we just felt like, especially in a small town, you only got one shot to make a good first impression.”

Porter and Walker both say the committee wanted to ensure that the first dragon boat races were professional and well-organized so that everyone had a positive experience. 

The day will feature a rubber duck floating 50/50 race, food trucks, local vendors, live music, and bouncy castles. 

Here is the schedule for the day:

8 a.m.

Harlen Brews (downtown square from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

8:30 a.m.

Exercise with Sydney Haines (NBCC parking lot)

9 a.m.  

–Vendor market opens (NBCC parking lot 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

–Starting line Float races (NBCC wharf 9-11:30)

–Bouncy castles (NBCC parking lot 9-5)

–Snow cones, plastic duck 50/50 tickets, Canada Day hats, glasses, buttons, and tattoos for sale (downtown square 9-5)

–Finish line Float races (farm market) 11:30

–Plastic duck 50/50 1st race (town bridge to farm market)


–THE MARTIN BOYS (NBCC parking lot 12-3)

–Canada Day cake cutting (NBCC parking lot)

–DRAGON BOAT RACES (12-5) 4:30

–Plastic duck 50/50 2nd race (town bridge to farm market)

Be sure to follow the July 1st Floats Facebook page for updates!

FOREST FIRE INDEX – click image for current status

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