Once Upon a Longboat

1988 – Eight teams stand underneath the coastal foliage of Pacific Spirit Park, bearing the pride of their faculties on their shirts, and on their determined faces. In front of them, lies eight logs of Douglas Fir; masterpieces awaiting their sculptors.
And they begin, toiling away at the single piece of wood that they will slowly carve into a Longboat. No, do not be confused – these specimens are unlike the creature you may know as the dragon boat. No, this is a power on its own. This is the Longboat.
When they finish their vessels, the teams hoist their voyageur canoes onto their shoulders and make the trek down to Jericho Beach. But the race isn’t over. Far from it – they must take their longboats out to the chilly waters of Burrard Inlet and paddle a grueling course, sweat upon their brows, each stroke a perfect synchrony of motion and breath driven by the sheer will of a unified team.
They finish. The long day is done. The teams drag the heavy boats out of the water, and take their place along the shoreline. They have started as the fiercest of competitors, but have ended the day as one, for they have labored, they have fought, and they have achieved glory all the same. Together, they erect the fruits of their hard work, their Longboats, on the grounds of Jericho Beach to serve as monuments for this wondrous day, to honor the lands and traditions of the Musqueam Nation, and to be a symbol of strength and perseverance for the future courageous souls who endeavor to partake in this grand adventure.
Thus, Day of The Longboat was born.

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Okay, so it didn’t quite happen like that. I’m sure you can imagine the amount time, money, and logistics needed to make that all happen. But believe it or not, this was the original pitch for the event we have come to know and love as Day of The Longboat. Pretty epic, huh? And even though the event isn’t quite as intense as it was when it was first conceptualized, it’s still an event that is rich in tradition and very much embedded into our campus culture.
Its inaugural year was 1988, being the 3rd major event put on by UBC REC after the Great Trek and Storm the Wall. In 1999, it made the airwaves of sports network giant ESPN, and is one of the largest voyageur canoe races in North America. Going on its 24th year, the event is one of the few that has stood the test of time – it is still structurally the same event it’s always been with very minor changes (the route from 10+ years ago is the reverse of the route you’ll be doing race weekend for example), has always been held at the same location, and is hands down the first major UBC event of the year.
This year’s Longboat will be the biggest EVER. There’ll be 350 teams of ten, with an expected 298 team racing in 41 heats on Saturday alone. This year will also mark a new tradition in the addition of the “Just for Fun” category which will feature 50 teams racing on Sunday. So if you haven’t done the math yet, that’s well over 3000 people that will take part in the event!
So I hope you’re excited. There will be boats. There will be seawater in your shoes, and sand in the most weirdest of places. There will be lots of sweating and loud primal yells. There will be sketchy wavering and overturned boats. There will be beautiful people doing first-aid. There will be weather that may be good or bad. There may even be a hot tub. But whether you’re a racer, a just-for-fun’er, or an entertained observer you will be guaranteed to have fun. Because you’re a part of something bigger.  A long-standing tradition of awesome.

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