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.

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