Sunday, November 11, 2018

Race Report: Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival



Race: The 2018 Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival. For a description of what Dragon Boats and Dragon Boat racing are, check this.

Date it happened: 10 November 2018

Host: The Citrus County Education Foundation

Location: Lake Hernando Park, in Hernando, Florida. It's in a beautiful rural area of mossy oaks, cypress swamps, gentle hills, and farmland. It's between Orlando and Gainesville.

Course / Distance: All the dragon boat races were 307 m sprints in parallel lanes marked with little buoys. Each heat only lasted about a minute and a half, but it was a minute and half of full power exertion. Our boat raced in three heats over the course of the day.

Conditions: It was cloudy and pleasantly mild with a northeast breeze blowing towards the lakefront, perpendicular to the course.

Participants, Results and Gear: This was the biggest and most spirited paddle race I have ever been to. The event site had a full-fledged, dragon-themed country fair going on, with rows of arts and crafts booths, food tents, etc. There were also dozens of dragon boat clubs with elaborate tent setups, outfits and costumes, including one Asian cultural association that had a giant Chinese Dragon puppet that periodically danced through the crowd. Dragon boat racing is far more popular than I had realized!

I was there at the behest of my SUP racing pal Robert Norman, who recently formed and began coaching the Ka Nalu Nui Dragonboat Club in Citrus County where he lives. In just a few months of existence, the club has grown to about 40 people; enough to field three "boats" in this competition (one 20-person crew, and two 10-person crews). Clubs have their own boat or boats to practice on, but competitions are usually held on boats provided by the race organizers to keep things fair. There are two divisions based on boat size: 20-person boats with 10 rows of paddlers, and 10-person boats with 5 rows of paddlers. Both lengths of boat also include a drummer at the front and a steersman at the back. The steersman is sometimes provided by the race organizers. Besides boat length, there are some divisions based on crew type. The "community" division is less competitive, and the "premier" division is more competitive. There are also some divisions by gender; an all-female division and a mixed gender division. The mixed division has to have at least 10 women on the 20-person boats and at least 4-women on the 10-person boats. There's no men's division.

Robert Norman steering his 20-person Ka Nalu Nui team to the starting line.


Ka Nalu Nui's 10-person and 20-person boats in the community division were all the new amateur paddlers that Robert had put together over the last few months, but his 10-person boat in the premier division was also filled out by some ringers that Robert had gathered from the SUP and outrigger canoe racing community. Four of us from Bonita Springs' "CGT Tribe" were brought in: Cindy Gibson, Bill Mussenden, Matt Kearney, and me. Of us four, only Cindy had been on a multi-person paddle craft before (6-person outrigger canoe team when she lived in California). Bill, Matt, and I had to learn on the spot how to paddle in coordination. We must have done pretty well, though, because we won first place in the event! For the play by play, I'm copying Matt Kearney's report. He wrote a good one.

Play by play (by Matt Kearney): "Big thanks to Robert and the Ka Nalu Nui Dragonboat Club for inviting us to compete with them at the Lake Hernando Dragonboat Festival yesterday. It was such a blast and Robert has built up something really special in just a few short months. 72 teams and thousands of people came from around the state and as far away as Tacoma, Washington. With paddlers from Canada, Singapore, and everywhere in between. 4 of us from Bonita Springs came up and joined a “premier mixed 10” boat which was the most competitive division. None of us 4 had ever been in a dragonboat before, and 3 of us have never even raced a team craft of any kind where syncing up your stroke is so important. But we can paddle! 😅 With some quick coaching from Robert, we managed to win the qualifying heat posting the fastest time of the day, then in the semifinal heat our boat got rammed into by the one next to us who couldn’t steer then still almost won 😂 (and did after time penalties added). Then we won first overall in the championship heat. All against teams with years of experience and dragonboat practice. Ka Nalu Nui’s other 2 teams also went undefeated and won first overall in their mixed 10 and 20 community divisions! Needless to say the other clubs at the event couldn’t believe it and I hope the buzz we created yesterday helps Ka Nalu Nui continue the momentum and build the club even further. They have a great coach in Robert and a fun group of people. I’ll definitely try to do this again some day."

Robert Norman and his 20-person Ka Nalu Nui team celebrate after winning first in the community division.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Race Report: Imperial River Challenge 2018

Our team: The Smurfs.


Race: The 2018 Imperial River Challenge

Date it happened: 3 November 2018

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page. This particular race was also sponsored by the Imperial River Conservancy, and raised money for water quality monitoring and other environmental stewardship of the river.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: The course went downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.5 km).

Conditions: It was relatively cool and breezy, warming up by the end of the race. The water level was high and the river current was unusually slack, so wind played more of a role than current.

Participants, Results and Gear: This race was different than most because it was based on TEAMS of four people, with at least one woman in each team. There were three complete SUP teams, one incomplete SUP team of 3 women, and one team of two tandem kayaks. One of the kayakers was a dog. My team was recruited by Robert Norman and included Matt Kearney, me and Cindy Gibson, who is the fastest woman in our town. Robert then cancelled, ironically, but we replaced him with a great local paddler, Bill Mussenden. Our team name was the Smurfs. While we were proud of team we put together, local badass athletic coach Mark Athanacio was putting together an ultra-fast team with members of the East Coast's "Flying Fish Paddle Sports" crew. The fastest guy on that crew is pro-level Brazilian paddler Eri Tenorio. Only one notch slower than Eri were the next two guys, Steve Miller and Tim Warner, who are the top men's amateur paddlers in the state. The other fast men from the flying fish crew were Reid Hyle (former pro-level kayak racer and current fisheries biologist), and Steven Bernstein, a serious amateur racer who is usually close to my speed. The fastest women on the flying fish crew are Kim Barnes and Maddie Miller (who is Steve Miller's teenage daughter). Those two are probably the 2nd and 3rd fastest women in Florida, with only professional Seychelle being faster. Also racing SUPs were Nessa Brunton, Jen Hayes, and Donna Catron. Here are the results

1st Place Team B, total time 2:42:45
Eri Tenorio, 14x22 Flying Fish sup, 0:37:54 (new course record)
Mark Athanacio, 14x23 custom sup, 0:41:34
Steven Bernstein, 14x23 Flying Fish sup, 0:41:38
Kim Barnes, 14x22 Flying Fish sup, 0:41:39 (new women's course record)

2nd Place Team C, total time 2:43:01
Tim Warner, 14x23 Flying Fish sup, 0:39:12
Steven Miller, 14x22 Flying Fish sup, 0:39:13
Reid Hyle, 14x24 Flying Fish sup, 0:41:42
Maddie Miller, 14x21 Flying Fish sup, 0:42:54

3rd Place Team A, total time 2:56:40
James Douglass, 14x23 Riviera sup, 0:42:22
Matt Kearney, 14x24 Naish sup, 0:42:24
Bill Mussenden, 14x24 custom sup, 0:45:49
Cindy Gibson, 14x23 custom sup, 0:46:05

Tandem Kayak team, total time 4:04:52
Patrick Scheele and Kona the dog, 1:01:07
Meg Bosi and Kat Luchesi, 1:01:19

Incomplete team, total time n/a
Nessa Brunton, 14x23 Flying Fish sup, 0:52:27
Jen Hayes, 12'6x22 Hovie sup, 0:55:54
Donna Catron, 14x24 Flying Fish sup, 1:00:22

Play by play: When my team heard about the crack teams that Mark Athanacio had rallied together we knew we were out-gunned, but we still wanted to do our best. The night before the race we met at Upriver Ceramics (Matt Kearney's pottery studio on the river) to coordinate boards and strategy. Working as a team is not something that we often practice as sup racers, so it required a change of mindset, and some changes in gear. Cindy usually paddles a 12'6 board, but 14' boards are faster, so she tested some and decided to borrow one of Mark Athanacio's older boards. Matt Kearney also used a different board than his own, because his 25.5" wide board is a great in rough water but not as a fast as a narrow board in flat water. He tried a 14x22 custom Riviera and a 14x24 Naish Javelin during our practice and decided the Naish was easier to draft me with. Based on our relative paces, we determined that we would split into two groups, with Matt drafting me and Cindy drafting Bill. The other teams had similar cooperative drafting strategies, with the people of similar speed sticking together in clusters of 2 to 3, and a few going it alone.

Our plan worked perfectly until the race started. Each team started separately, and we were first. Tragically, Cindy fell off on her first stroke, and told Bill not to wait up, while Matt and I zoomed ahead of both Bill and Cindy. I went at a hard pace very similar to the pace I would go while racing solo; just a little bit smoother to make sure Matt could stay attached. It was hard to know what the optimal path was through the river because of the unclear current direction. At times I thought we might have been fighting reverse current, but I'm not sure. When Matt and I rounded the bridge at the halfway point we saw Bill first, then Eri Tenorio on his own, then Cindy. Cindy hadn't lost much distance on Bill, but Eri was tearing by everybody at amazing pace. I can't remember exactly what the order was of the people we passed, but I remember Team B had a three-person draft train of Mark Athanacio, Kim Barnes, and Steven Bernstein, who cooperatively traded leads the whole race. In team C Tim Warner and Steve Miller worked as a very fast pair, with Reid Hyle and Maddie Miller each going separately a bit further back.

On the upriver section there were some open water areas where a headwind knocked our speed down by 1 kph or so. In retrospect it might have been wise to hug the shoreline or make other route changes to minimize the wind. A little after the headwind sections, with 2 km still to go in the race, Eri Tenorio caught up with Matt and I. I took a few strokes to try to catch him as he went past, but his speed was >10 kph and I just couldn't keep up. That jazzed me up though, and I forgot about keeping a steady pace to keep Matt attached. Matt let me know he had dropped out of my draft and I slowed down for a minute or two for him to catch up before resuming the pace we'd been going before Eri came by. Nobody else passed us, and we crossed the line still in a draft train.

Here's my GPS track from the course:


The race committee was pretty quick about calculating every individual's time and team time. It was interesting to see how closely matched teams B and C were (just 16 seconds apart). Eri Tenorio's incredible course record time of 37:54 (10.21 kph average!) was a big advantage for his team, but Steven Miller and Tim Warner both getting ~0:39:12 (9.87 kph average!) helped their team a similar amount. Reid Hyle was lamenting that he might have cost his team the win by getting some debris stuck on his fin. Oh, well. Everyone on the first place team got $300, the second place team got $200, and third place got $100 each. So I made money on this race!

After the race there was lots of milling about, posing for pictures, and fussing over boards. The Flying Fish folks were nice about letting me try out some of their boards. I particularly liked the speed and light weight of Steven Miller's 14x22, but I'm not sure I'd be able to handle it in rough water conditions. Eri Tenorio's 14x22 had a little more rocker and was noticeably thicker, which I didn't like for flat water but might have been nice in rougher water.