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Paddlechica: Dragon Boat Camp - The Complete Guide

Posted by Kristin Stickels on
Paddlechica: Dragon Boat Camp - The Complete Guide

Paddlechica - Dragon Boat Camp - The Complete Guide
This article was originally published on

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? Do you wonder 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 the past two years 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 again fortunate enough to be one of the coaches at Jim Farintosh’s wonderful dragon boat camp in Indian Harbour Beach, 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 grownups, 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.

This article was originally published on September 23, 2016 but I have updated it in some areas to reflect details that have changed, such as the current year and dates of the 2018 camp, and I have added more information about lodging and the outrigger option, among other things.

Dragon boat camp

Photo: Jan Oakley

Every year for the past 18 years Jim has held his Bow Wave Clinic, a week-long camp for dragon boaters of all levels from various countries. Since its inception, the camp has hosted nearly 6000 paddlers from North America, plus several from as far away as Europe, Asia and Australia. According to Jim, some campers have been attending his camp for over 10 years! It was really fun to meet so many different paddlers from so many different teams.

What Does Camp Entail?

Camp takes place over six days, starting with a team orientation meeting on Sunday afternoon and finishing with a regatta followed by a BBQ on Saturday. Each day has a yoga class, two practices of 90 minutes each, a mid-day stretch session, individual help, and educational talks. You will also take part in video review twice weekly and there are three socials in the week so you have time to chat with paddlers and coaches off the water. In addition, there is a weekly introduction to outrigger canoes for every camper and optional morning sessions for those who want to work specifically on OC training. And this year there will be a “Best Practices” coaching option and a Nutrition and Wellness program offered, too.

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, comes with a few fellow paddlers, or comes alone, each person is sure to get a high-quality week of training, meet new paddling friends and have loads of fun. Campers range in ability from novice to expert and the coaches are ready to adapt their training to all skill levels.

On-water training consists of both technique and endurance work, with plenty of breaks for water (it is Florida and you will be hot!) as well as a few breaks to admire the scenery and local wildlife.


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

The outrigger canoe (OC) option will give paddlers the opportunity to hone their technique on one- and two-man outrigger canoes with top-notch coaches who patiently work with all levels of paddlers, including those who have never been in an OC before. I’ve been impressed by how many people conquered their fears of paddling an OC or of huliing (flipping over).

OC coaching at camp

The OC coaches are patient and help paddlers learn all about paddling an outrigger canoe. Photo: Jan Oakley

Ozone Outrigger in Hawaii sends the very best outriggers for these OC sessions. Paddlers who choose the OC option add six one-hour sessions in addition to the dragon boat paddling during the week. These sessions are geared towards all skill levels, so whether you’re a novice or experienced, you are sure to become a more confident and competent OC paddler. Space for these courses is limited to available gear.


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 beachfront patio 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 spend extra time on the boat afterwards for one-on-one sessions.


Sunrise beachfront 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. Some topics in the past have 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 are included during the week so that paddlers are 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.


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: Jan Oakley

What Are the Accommodations Like?

The majority of campers stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a gorgeous beach-front hotel where all of the land-based activities for camp take place. Envision rolling out of bed and down to the outdoor patio to take part in a sunrise yoga session while the sound of the surf is gently heard in the background. Picture yourself stopping back at your room to change clothes or even grab a quick cool-down shower on your lunch break before heading to one of the educational talks that takes place in the conference rooms of the hotel. Imagine after a long, hot day of training simply taking the elevator down to the patio to hang out with your fellow campers for the evening socials, and then, when you are exhausted from a wonderfully productive day, all you have to do is head right back up the elevator to your ocean-view room. With a complimentary shuttle to Melbourne International Airport, on-site bar and restaurant with a hot breakfast buffet, free high-speed wifi, and complimentary parking, the Crowne Plaza Hotel makes your week at camp smooth and uncomplicated.

Crowne Plaza Hotel

Photo: Crowne Plaza Hotel

Who Are The Coaches?

For me, one of the highlights was working with the other coaches. Every evening in the coaches’ house 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!


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

What is There to Do Nearby?

On Thursday, campers have the afternoon off to rest and recover from the training sessions and the Causeway Paddle. How you spend your free time is up to you. Some choose to explore the nearby sights and there are certainly many interesting places to explore. Cocoa Beach, a beautiful beach and famous surf spot, is just a short drive north. You can visit the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, enjoy drinks at tiki bar on the beach or even take a surf lesson. A little farther north is Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center where you can tour the museum and even watch a rocket launching if you’re lucky. The Brevard Zoo is right in Melbourne and not only has a wide variety of animals on exhibit, but also allows you to get up-close and personal by feeding the rhinos and giraffes at special feeding experiences. And if you are feeling extra-adventurous you can take to the trees on a zipline with their Treetop Trek Aerial Adventures.


Testimonial from Annie, a First-Time Camper in 2016 and Veteran Camper in 2017:

“My first time in a real dragon boat on real water was last year (2016) 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.”


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. According to Jim, “…a week at camp is easily worth 4-5 weeks of regular practice at home, so it definitely kick-starts your season in the right way.”

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.

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