George Draskoy is the quintessential Renaissance man.
A retired forestry engineer, today Draskoy is a reiki master, passionate about photography, restores vintage photographs using a computer, has a brown belt in karate, designs websites and is an accomplished dragon boat racer. Draskoy will compete in his 200th dragon boat race later this June — a week before his 88th birthday.
Draskoy says he was inspired to take up dragon boat racing 18 years ago after attending the annual Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival in False Creek.
“At that race I saw the Gift of Life team made up of people who had donated kidneys, hearts and lungs and I thought, if they can do it, I can do it,” says Draskoy, who in 1951 won a swimming championship in Hungary.
It took Draskoy two years to finally join the team and he ended up at his first practice on Feb. 4, 2003.
“It was plus five degrees,” says Draskoy. “It’s only really cold when it’s freezing.”
Draskoy says dragon boat racing came natural to him. As an eight-year-old boy, born and raised in Hungary, Draskoy began paddling his kayak on the Danube River.
“Then the Russians came and my kayak disappeared along with everything else,” Draskoy says of the Soviet occupation of Hungary after the Second World War. While taking part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Draskoy was forced to flee to Yugoslavia. He was later jailed and then spent time in a refugee camp. After three months in an internment camp, Draskoy arrived in B.C. in 1957 where, after an accidental meeting, he convinced the dean of the Sopron Faculty of Forestry at the University of B.C. to allow him to enrol. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in recreational use of forest lands at the University of New Brunswick. After decades of working in forestry, including years with the parks department in Newfoundland where he retired in 1988 as chief of park interpretation, Draskoy moved back to Vancouver.
That’s when Draskoy began to pursue his passion projects. He is a prolific photographer and created a YouTube channel largely dedicated to the early days of forestry, his friends in the Hungarian community and his photographs.
When he’s not behind a camera, Draskoy designs websites, plays Mahjong and reads on his iPad, is a reiki master and, of course, is on the water in a dragon boat.
“I was born under the sign of Cancer,” says Draskoy, “so water is very important to me. I was born for it.”
30th annual Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival: June 22 to 24
George Draskoy says the Grandragons need more paddlers and wants to encourage men and women 50 and older to check them out during the Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place in and around False Creek from June 22 to 24. The festival is three days of free music, activities and world-class racing.
The Grandragons is the first mixed seniors dragon boat racing team in Canada and in the past 10 years has set the standard for that division. Based in False Creek, the Grandragons have taken a lead role in promoting seniors dragon boat racing on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. Over the years, the team has developed into a strong competitor at dragon boat festivals, usually finishing in the top two in senior events and in the top third in competition with younger teams in recreational division events.
The Grandragons team includes a wide range of paddling abilities and their coaches are Olympic-level athletes who have personally performed and trained teams in local, national and international competitions in a variety of water sports. Their mandate is to help each member paddle to the best of their ability. For more information visit grandragons.org.