30 Under 30: Dominic Lai champions cultural awareness through his work at Dragon Boat BC

Lai started as a volunteer with Dragon Boat BC in 2015 and settled into his current position around 2020.


Mark Roznowski/Trifecta Productions

Dominic Lai, 29

Senior director of development, marketing and operations, Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society

Life Story: Dominic Lai, who grew up in Vancouver, remembers what paper money used to look like. “On the back of the $5 bill, it had a poem about hockey, about how someone ordered a Montreal Canadiens sweater and then when it came it was actually a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.”

Lai points out how this speaks to the Canadian identity, and how overlooking the culture behind the things we interact with can reduce its value and potential.

A lot of people, Lai contends, don’t think about dragon boating beyond its role as a sport. But as the senior director of development, marketing and operations of Dragon Boat BC, Lai tries to enhance the organization’s cultural awareness through recreational events and artistic programming as much as he tries to develop the sports side. He started as a volunteer with the organization in 2015 and settled into his current position around 2020. Alongside his involvement in the dragon boating community, he also worked in clothing retail, took a shot at law school and earned a master’s in political science from UBC in 2016.

After joining his high school dragon boat team at Eric Hamber Secondary, Lai ended up as its coach and general manager over multiple national and world championships.

The roles that Lai has served in the field so far include a stint as program director and head coach for Dragon Boat Canada’s under-16/18 national team at the 2017 world championships in France. He also raced with Team Canada at the 2018 World Cup in China.

Now, Lai loves the “randomness” of his schedule at Dragon Boat BC: some days he’s handling grants, partnerships and sport programming, and other days he’s marketing and putting stickers on boats. To add to that, he’s also contemplating opening a cat cafe? (even though he doesn’t drink coffee).

“Whatever comes next, comes next,” he says. “I’m just along for the ride.”

Bottom Line: Dragon Boat BC is a nonprofit organization founded in 1986. In addition to hosting sports and cultural programs, it operates the Dragon Zone Paddling Club in Vancouver and produces the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival, the Steveston Dragon Boat Festival and 10 more events around the province.