By Bryn White
Nestled between two vast warm water lakes with miles of beach and secret coves, Penticton is well known as a water-loverís destination no matter what your choice of vessel. Every season, thousands of people enjoy the smooth sand and gentle lapping waves on the beaches of Okanagan and Skaha Lake. Whether you are looking for a relaxing day of dipping with the family, or want to hype-up your adrenaline behind a ski boat, Pentictonís lakes offer something for everyone.
Far beyond Pentictonís shores are miles of playground. Just minutes from town, you could be exploring remote and private beaches by sail, motor, or the power of your own paddle. Cruises and charters ply the waters with style, and anyone can learn the ropes at sailing school. Rent a personal watercraft, kayak or motorboat for a day, or an overnight excursion. Both lakes are favorite haunts for water contests, so keep your eyes out for sailing races, water-ski/wake-board competitions and dragons!
From early spring to late fall, the waters surrounding Penticton become the arena for traditional and historic paddling events that feature battling water monsters and honoring water-going ways of life. Growing in popularity are ancient cultural water traditions that bring together modern recreation with the customs of antiquity.
In September, the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival comes alive on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Colorful and festive boats complete with a head, tail and scales of fiery Chinese dragons and the sound of beating drums draws spectators to witness twenty boats battle for first place in exciting heats of action. First introduced to Canada during the World Exposition of 1986, the tradition of Dragon Boating began two thousand years ago when Chinese fishermen tried to save a drowning statesman from being eaten by dangerous fish and water dragons. To scare away the monsters, the fishermen beat drums and thrashed the water with their paddles. Today, the competition is fierce, and over 200 local Dragon Boaters take to the water every week to prepare for the contest. Of course, they have their own water monster to deal with Ė Ogopogo is never far from shore.
In keeping with ancient maritime traditions, Outrigger paddling is fast becoming one of the most popular ways to play on the water. With origins in the Polynesian and Oceania cultures, ocean-dependant peoples have used Outrigger boats for over three thousand years. Paddling for fun came as naturally as paddling for work. Racing was just a part of life.
The warm lakes of the Okanagan become the stage for some of the most popular middle and long distance Outrigger canoe races held in British Columbia. Paddlers from around the Pacific Northwest leave their cold and salty water for more warm and sunny venues with names like Duel in the Desert, The North American Freshwater Challenge and the Length of the Lake Ultrapaddle.
Canadian paddlers no longer have to travel great distances and at great expense to compete in high profile races in Hawaii and California. The highly coveted Length of the Lake victory is making its mark as one of the most highly esteemed and challenging Outrigger competitions in Canada. True to the tradition of the Penticton Ironman Canada event, the contest is grueling and the course is stunning. Relay teams must complete the entire length, 110 kilometers of Okanagan Lake from Vernon to Penticton in a single day, with no outside support and only a few points of rest. The race could take anywhere from eight to eleven hours. Spectators and crew support follow the Hawaiian style boats from stunning lakeside views and cheer the teams to the finish line at Okanagan Beach in Penticton.
For lily-dippers or adrenaline junkies, the waters of Penticton and Wine Country are inviting. Dive in, and enjoy the largest warm-water lakes the Okanagan has to offer.
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