A Rookie’s Guide to The Dragon Boat World Championships in Welland: Wise Words from Veteran Paddlers

If you are a rookie to Team USA, or your own country’s national team, this guide is for you. After all of the preparation, Welland is just about in sight, which means at this point everything you’ve been doing for the last two years will soon come down to a few minutes of racing on dragon boat’s biggest stage.

The physical training is tough, but practices have taken care of preparing the body. What about the other parts of World Championships – the parts that nobody tells you about?

That’s why Bob Mina put this guide together in 2011. He asked the veterans of Team USA from 2009, “If you could go back in time to your first Worlds and give yourself advice, what would it be?”

He received more advice than he thought he would get, and everything they had to say has been shared here for us to learn from. Thanks to the following Team USA 2009 veteran paddlers for helping Bob put this together: Kevin McFadden, Kevin McNamara, Pam Korotky, Pete Kiliani, Erik Werner, Carol “Cat” Dailey, Carol Rabuck, Colleen McNamara, Simon Shum, Lance Syferd, David Winter, Al Nichols, Phil Barringer, Sharon Adamski, Jim Brody, Katie Godfrey, Dave Wald, and Jeff Firkin.

The Rookie’s Guide to The Dragon Boat World Championships

noun ru̇-kē

Definition of rookie

1: recruit; also : novice

2: a first-year participant in a major professional sport

– Travel as light as possible. Make sure all the stuff you need for the day is in one bag.
– DO NOT check the baggage that contains your uniform or any essential racing items (except your paddle). If your luggage is lost you are screwed.
– IT’S NOT A VACATION – DON’T OVER EAT or DRINK. Over eating will make you sluggish, and over drinking will find you a seat on the bench.

– BE READY WHEN IT’S TIME TO RACE. Don’t go shopping for souvenirs a few minutes before we leave for a race. The decision to replace you will be immediate.
– Don’t make anyone have to go looking for you. Ever. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, and even when you’re not.
– Bring or purchase a chair. It’s a long week and it’s nice to have a place to sit / lay to chill out.
– Bring extra clothes so you don’t have to lie around in wet / stinky clothes all day.
– Bring food that’s easy to digest.
– Bring or purchase a cooler for cold drinks.
– Rinse out your paddling uniform with clean water ASAP, and hang to dry.
– Be sure you know when you are needed next. There is a lot of hot seating and if you “go to lunch” you may miss your race.
– Make sure you have a watch on you (see above).
– Generally you will have the same number for each race but that may change. Be sure you know your number and you have it pinned on your uniform.
– Share the space we are allotted in the tent or wherever we are. Leave people the room if they need it to rest and lay down.
– Keep an eye on teammate’s possessions.
– Stay close to the team area during the competition. The last thing you want is for folks to have to look for you…or heaven forbid, you miss a race completely.  It has happened!
– Keep your eyes and ears open, take responsibility to know what’s going on, when you might paddle, and be ready when that time comes.
– Conserve energy in between races. Don’t lay out in the sun trying to get a tan, stay cool in the shade or in air conditioning.


Be ready when it’s time to race and have the right number on. Photo: Rafael Veve

–  It’s extremely stressful for your coach to put together line ups, race schedules, and watch/evaluate the races. If he/she is in “World Championship mode,” it’s best to stay away. If you have questions ask your boat captain.
– DRAMA IS BAD.  Don’t get involved in drama. Enough said.
– Do not ask the coach to repeat your seat assignment. Ask someone else.
– Don’t ask the coach questions that can be answered very easily by someone else. There are many people that he/she is coaching and setting lineups for. If all of them are going to the coach for everything he/she will eventually get pissed. Go to a veteran with your problem and if it still isn’t solved ask him/her if you should ask the coach.

Photo: Nikki Pruksakasemsuk

Coach Joann Fegley reviewing the lineup in Hungary 2013. Photo: Nikki Pruksakasemsuk


Coach Bob McNamara with Karol and Netta in Hungary 2013


– You will be in the marshalling area with other teams. Do not react to anything they do or say.
– Pick out that person from an opposing team who is sitting in the equivalent of your seat and tell yourself you are better than them.
– DO NOT look at other teams on the line or in the race.
– Listen well to coaches and drummer calls. There may be strategies that you are not aware of and are not communicated fully to you. You will be told what to do. Just do it and don’t question it.
– Be ready at the line. You should know this already but I have experienced otherwise especially if the steersman is having issues in wind, whatever. They do call quick starts and you’ve got be ready like a hair trigger.
– Do not whine about how you did not get into the final or the race or the boat you wanted to be in. It’s a team effort. Ditto for whining in general.
– If you are a sub, your job is to give the starters rest for the heats or semis, but in all likelihood you will be on the sidelines for the final. This sucks to sit through. But don’t complain to the coach about how you should be in there for the final, just cheer and come out harder for next worlds and make the starting lineup.
– Know the plan before every race. You will be told the plan in a meeting before the race, just make sure you are paying attention and present.
– Don’t talk in the boat. Ever.
– Feel good about being on the team…whether you paddle a lot or a little.  You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t add value, or weren’t included in the top paddlers in the country. You’re ready.
– Support, encourage and cheer each other on.


Team USA Senior A women at marshalling in Hungary, 2013. Photo: Rafael Veve


– Go Fast.
– Relax and enjoy yourself. A tense paddler is a slow paddler. Smile and go fast.  Trust in your technique. Keep your head up.
– Stay relaxed and don’t mentally wear yourself out.
– Paddle your races just like you’re in practice. The problem a lot of newbies make is trying to paddle harder than they’ve trained. You’re very likely not going to be any faster next week then you were this morning, so don’t try to be faster, getting gassed halfway through the race, and wind up messing up your stroke. Just do what you’ve been doing 4-5 days/week for months and trust it.
– Those last 20 strokes of the race you have got to be pulling the hardest you have ever pulled. You need to think, “I am pulling harder than the person in my seat in that other boat, and we are gonna’ win this by .xx of a second…”
– Quiet in the boat, pull your ass off.
– Get a good butt pad, meaning, it does not have to be padded in these short races, it just has to keep you from sliding around on your seat. When you slide around on your seat in one of the world sprint races you will know what I mean!
– You think that training was hard? Try losing.
– Enjoy your teammates and even the grumpy coaches preparing in their own way for races. Take in the crappy strokes and love the really good ones. After the races have fun bantering (but don’t get sucked into it during the races).
– Take time to meet other teams and their paddlers – you will see them every two years for years to come and grow with them as competitors.
– Watch the enthusiasm of the younger paddlers and know that someday some of them will be sitting in your seat.
– Take nothing for granted – no race will ever be the same. Enjoy it all!

Team USA 2013 Senior A Mixed. Photo: Jeff Firkin

Team USA 2013 Senior A Mixed, Hungary 2013. Photo: Jeff Firkin


Take time to meet other teams and their paddlers – you will see them every two years for years to come and grow with them as competitors. The friendships you create will be priceless. Team USA and Canada in Hungary 2013. Photo: Megan Kress

– Be an honorable representative of the USA (or your home country) and the team. In other words: Behave!
– Stay driven, focused, and calm. It’s all a bit overwhelming the first time – soak it all in, it’s ok, but always remember why you’re here…to represent your country.
– Don’t let your nerves get the best of you, and kick ass!
– This is your moment, and you deserve it!
– Soak it all in. Enjoy every minute of the experience. You are a great paddler and you will have more Worlds but you will never have a FIRST worlds again. Enjoy the calls of your country and recognize that they are referring to YOU. Enjoy your country’s flags waving around and the added pride in your country.


Cheering crowds at the Opening Ceremonies In Szeged, Hungary, 2013. Photo: Marc Applewhite


– Make sure you bring more jerseys, hats, shorts to trade!
– Bring spare or unwanted USA clothing (or clothing representing your country). At the end of the races, people go crazy swapping stuff with other nations.
– No partying until after all the racing is done

Best trade ever! You cant tell in the photo, but the jersey I  am wearing is fluorescent orange!

Best trade ever! This paddler and I swapped jerseys after the last race at Worlds in 2013. You can’t tell in this photo, but the jersey I am wearing is a fluorescent orange jersey from Hong Kong!

Guest author: Bob Mina, Team USA Senior A


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8 Discussion to this post

  1. Lyn says:

    Nice article n pictures…thx Bob n gang :) oh that shirt stix! Lyn

  2. L. Anthony Scott says:

    Good information, good read.

  3. Brenda says:

    Thanks for some great information.

  4. Gerri Emkey says:

    That’s what I want to do!

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Very inspiring and Excellent advice. Every paddler needs to read this.

  6. Jeff Hanson says:

    For those of us that might be rookie spectators any advice on good positions to watch, what Team USA wants in it supporters, … ?

    • paddlechica says:

      EXCELLENT question, Jeff, and we appreciate the support!!!! I haven’t been to the Welland race site myself, so possibly other readers can help us out here. My suggestion is to station yourself at the finish line for the most excitement. However, if it is anything like Worlds in Hungary, there will be a giant screen that has excellent race coverage on it. It will show the starts, an excellent aerial view in the middle of the race, and the finish, along with each team’s time. It is also great to be in the stands near the podium in order to celebrate our winning medals with us. So, basically there are a lot of great spots and we look forward to your support! Don’t forget to wear your red, white, and blue – a lot of stores have great stuff for 4th of July that can be worn as supporter gear. I hope to meet you while you are there!

      • Jeff Hanson says:

        I will be there for some of the days. I’ll arrive on the day of the 2000m. I think I’ll stand by the turn and watch the helms and teams negotiate what looks to be the hardest part of the race.

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