Dragon Boat Camp: What’s It All About?

Have you considered attending a dragon boat camp, but are unsure of whether you are up to the challenge of 5-6 straight days of paddling? Have you wondered what is involved in a camp that is so singularly focused on paddling? Have you inquired about a camp, but are nervous not knowing anyone who might attend? In this post, I’ve outlined a typical week at one of the camps I coached at last year in order to give you an idea what a dragon boat camp is all about. Keep in mind that all camps have different coaches, schedules, focuses, etc. and only you can decide which camp is best for you.

Last April, I was fortunate enough to be one of the coaches at Jim Farintosh’s wonderful dragon boat camp in Melbourne Florida. It was such an incredible experience to spend time on the water with like-minded adults. What is better than a sleepaway camp for adults, focused on something you’re passionate about? I had such a great time coaching at this camp that I wanted to share it with you, as well as tell you about the benefits of attending a paddling camp.

Every year for the past 16 years Jim has held his Bow Wave Clinic, a week-long camp for dragon boaters of all levels from various countries. Established in 2001, the camp has hosted nearly 5000 paddlers from North America, plus several from as far away as Europe, Asia and Australia. It was really fun to meet so many different paddlers from so many different teams.

What Does Camp Entail?

18-20 paddlers are assigned to a coach for the week. Whether a paddler attends the camp with his or her own dragon boat team or comes alone, each person is sure to get a high quality week of training, meet new paddling friends and have loads of fun. For my first week, I coached a combined boat of the Belleville Dragon Boat Club (Ontario, Canada) and Schuylkill Dragons (Pennsylvania, USA) and for my second week, I coached the Dragonheart Vermont team (Vermont, USA).

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There was no shortage of dolphin sightings during camp. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

Paddlers also have the opportunity to add on an outrigger canoe (OC) option to their camp experience to hone their techniques on one- and two-man outrigger canoes with top-notch coaches who patiently worked with all levels of paddlers, including those who had never been in an OC before. Paddlers who signed up for the OC option were on the water for about an hour and a half before their morning dragon boat session began. I was impressed at how many people conquered their fears of paddling an OC or of huliing (flipping over).

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Sunrise OC session. Photo: Shari Woodside

What is a Typical Camp Day Like?

A typical daily schedule begins with an optional (though highly recommended) sunrise yoga session on the beach to stretch all those crucial paddling muscles. Paddlers have two on-water coaching sessions: one in the morning and another in the afternoon, which usually last an hour and a half each.  Coaches often include extra time on the boat afterwards for one-on-one sessions.

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Sunrise yoga led by Anne. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

During the lunch break, mid-day informational talks are given by one of the coaches each day. Topics ranged from “Surviving the Hurt Locker” (how to mentally push past the physical pain) to “Paddling Well With Those Around You” (the benefits of adapting to your fellow paddlers). In addition, two video review sessions were included during the week so that paddlers were able to see their technique, understand their connection to the water, and recognize changes to be made to their stroke.

One-on-one training with Coach Christine. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

One-on-one training with Coach Christine. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

What Other Special Events Take Place?

Towards the end of the week teams take part in the Causeway Paddle – a 15k paddle to the causeway bridge and back. This is a great way to challenge your endurance while seeing some of the beauty of Florida’s waterways. Teams paddle out to the causeway and are greeted by gorgeous views, playful dolphins, and delicious orange slices as a nice way to break up the long paddle.

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Causeway paddle. Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

The culmination of camp is a 2k race on Saturday morning. The competition is tough as teams have been preparing for the race all week. But despite the desire to win bragging rights, it’s all friendly and everyone supports and encourages their own team as well as rival teams.

Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

After the race, paddlers clean up and head to a wonderful waterfront lunch at the hotel. By the end of the week each group has bonded well and created new friendships. Each team also performs a skit, or does some other tribute to their coach at the lunch. It’s a great time to poke fun at the coaches and I was impressed at how accurately my paddlers were able to impersonate me.

It’s a busy week filled with loads of learning and lots of fun.

Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

Who Are The Coaches?

For me, one of the highlights was working with the other coaches. Every evening in the coaches’ apartment was like a nerdy session of paddle-talk. We would discuss techniques and drills, as well as ways to help our paddlers improve. Many of the coaches are former Canadian National Team coaches. I was honored to be included among such impressive talents. According to Jim, “the coaching staff have hundreds of years of experience coaching dragon boat, sprint boats, marathon and outrigger as well over 100 world championship wins…an amazing group who works very hard each year.” The coaches certainly work, but we also have a lot of fun on the water. Camp tends to bring out the silliness in all of us at one time or another!

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The coaches at Bow Wave are a bunch of fun-loving paddlers who love what they do. Coach Anthony is one of the goofiest! Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

Testimonial from Annie, a First-Time Camper:

“My first time in a real dragon boat on real water was last year at the Bow Wave Dragon Boat Camp in Florida. I had learned a lot from my coaches, Joann Fegley and Megan Roberts, back home in a paddle pool in Philadelphia, but I was excited to actually put it to the test outside that simulated environment.

“Kristin was my coach at camp, and I was a little nervous when I found out I wouldn’t have my familiar coach from back home, despite the fact that Joann was also one of the coaches at the Bow Wave Clinic that week. But Kristin assuaged any concerns I had about feeling embarrassed by my newbie status in our first meeting as a team. She took time to get to know each of us and went around the circle several times until she had learned all of our names that first night! (Seriously, who does that?!? It was impressive.)

“One of the most helpful aspects of camp was the video reviews. Twice during the week we were recorded, and Kristin gave each of us feedback, tips, and specific things to work on. And you don’t just learn from watching yourself. I learned so much from listening to the feedback she gave others as well. She also pointed out things you did well or improvements you made from one review to the next. And then she knew things to watch out for with each of us when we were out on the boat and would call out to us to correct something, which was really cool. I really struggled with rotation, and there were a couple times I’d catch myself as soon as I heard my name. Or she would call someone else out for it, and it would prompt me to check to make sure my top hand was out over the water!  I thought it would be tough to get critical feedback, but it was actually really easy because everyone was in the same boat (no pun intended) and it helped to get the corrections in the moment when you could adjust.

Jim’s organization of the clinic week was amazing. He has clearly done a lot of careful planning of even the smallest details. We had just the right amount of paddling each day, supplemented by incredible coaches’ talks in between sessions to give your muscles a nice break while learning about pertinent topics in dragon boating. It was a busy week, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Now I’m counting down the days to the next camp! I hope to make this an annual mecca.”

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Annie on the podium with her teammates at Nationals in Mercer, New Jersey. Photo supplied by Annie Cushing

Where Can You Find a Camp?

There are a variety of training camps all over the world, typically held in the spring in warmer climates. Not only is it a great way to get back on the water after a long winter, but it’s also an excellent way to work on your technique under different coaching than what you might typically be used to. And, of course, it’s a wonderful way to meet paddlers from all over so that you can then connect up with them when you travel and be a promiscuous paddler.

A Google search of dragon boat camps near you is likely to yield adequate results. Word-of-mouth is always best, in my opinion. Ask fellow paddlers about the camps they have attended, including the pros and cons of their experiences.

Want More Information on the Bow Wave Clinic?

Jim Farintosh’s Bow Wave Clinic 2017 is held in Melbourne, Florida for three sessions in April:
Week one – April 9-15
Week two – April 16-22
Week three – April 23-29.

Registration begins September 30. To register, or for more information on the Bow Wave Clinic, contact Jim at: jfar26@hotmail.com

Photo supplied by Jim Farintosh

Photo supplied by Jim Farintosh

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8 Discussion to this post

  1. Robin Newton says:

    I have attended this camp 2 years in a row. What an awesome experience. It truly helped myself and others to compete for the USA, in WORLDS.
    My question to you, where is the best coaching and steering camp, and is there such a thing as a certification?
    I am good friends and employee of Penny Behling of Dynamic Racing. She speaks so highly of you.

    • Paddlechica says:

      I’m glad to hear you’ve had such a positive experience at Jim’s camp!

      Coaching and steering camps are a little harder to come by than the paddling camps. The USDBF offers some courses, though it appears that their website is not updated to reflect that, so I’m not sure when the clinics might occur. Dragon Boat Canada has courses for coaching community teams as well as competitive teams, plus they also offer steering clinics and even courses for race officials. More information can be found at: http://www.dragonboat.ca/courses.

      PS: Penny is fabulous! What a great person to work for!

      • Robin Newton says:

        I so agree, she is my mentor! I just want to be the best for her and for me as far as steering and coaching. Any advice?

        • Paddlechica says:

          Practice is the best way to get better at anything. More time on the water will equal more confidence at the helm and more assertiveness in coaching. And attending a coaching clinic is always helpful for learning the more detailed aspects of coaching.

  2. Anthony Scott says:

    Yes, Jim runs a great camp, nice write up covered a lot of good points.

  3. Delaine Swearman says:

    Those are the Pittsburgh Paddlefish in the boat above! (With the steersman in the red shirt)

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