As a 4-year paddler, the time seemed right to make my way to a dragon boat training camp, Space Coast Dragon Boat Camp, located in Melbourne, Florida. There were many factors for me to consider before committing to this – accommodations, transportation, finance, just to name a few. I wondered if the training would be too challenging, and if I’d be able to handle it.  I’ve surprised myself in the past, so it was time to surprise myself again. Thirteen of my teammates also made the decision to attend the camp, so I was not alone.  

Accommodations were made close to the camp, and the planning began! I decided to join a convoy of 8 teammates to travel there by vehicle. (It helps to have a vehicle to transport paddles and life jackets. While they CAN be checked at the airport, it’s much safer to have them transported by car. ) We left Hamilton at 4:00 am on Friday morning, spent the night in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then arrived in Melbourne in the late afternoon on Saturday.

Camp began on Monday morning, after a brief meeting with all paddlers on the Sunday evening. We began our day at 7:00 am with mobility exercises with Anne Baker. As a paddler herself, she is extremely knowledgeable about how paddling affects our bodies. Lots of moans and groans could be heard during our sessions as we worked through these stretches.  After 45 minutes of stretching, we headed to Oars & Paddles Park for our first in-boat lesson with our coach, Aaron. One of the benefits for those of us living in colder climes,  is that we truly have the most wonderful sea life to observe in a sunny and warm climate. From the very first paddle, we were fortunate to see dolphins dancing in the water. And this continued for the entire week!  

Aaron took us out and began the process of getting to know us as a team and as individual paddlers. With his gentle guidance and encouragement, we also began the process of getting to know him. We all enjoyed our time on the water- it was exciting to be back in a dragon boat to enjoy the sport we love. We had a second practice in the afternoon which, while exhausting, was highly successful. The week went on like this – yoga/mobility, practice at 8:15 and the second at 2:45, both lasting for 90 minutes. In addition, we had a daily “Coach’s Talk”, which was not mandatory to attend. We learned about the origins of the camp, and the direction the camp was heading in the future.  

On Thursday, we had a 16 km paddle, known as the Causeway Paddle. To be honest, this paddle was something I was most apprehensive about.  It seemed daunting to me, despite reassurances from others that it was manageable.  I have never paddled this distance since I’ve started dragon boating but I was there to get the most from this camp, so off we went. And it WAS the most challenging paddle I’ve ever experienced but I’m happy to say that I did it. We ALL did it! And it was exhilarating, to say the least. 

Saturday was race day – a 2000m race for the 5 teams at camp. For a 2k race, boats are released at the start line every 30 seconds. For me, the 2000m is a race of endurance and strength. Our team is very much accustomed to emptying our tanks and leaving nothing on the boat. And this race was no exception. With 17 paddlers in our boat, we came in second place. We were thrilled!  The boat that took first place had a full boat of 20 paddlers.  

Traditionally, after this race, a lunch and social event takes place to close out the week. Our team did a dance for both Jim Farintosh, founder of the Space Camp, and Aaron. It was very well received and our team had a lot of fun with it.  

Saturday evening, we convened at our condo and had a potluck dinner. What better way to empty our fridges and pantries than holding a potluck! The festivities started at 5:00 and it wrapped at 7:00 – exhaustion had become our constant companion at this point. Many were preparing for the trip home and wanted to get to sleep early.  

I think I speak for all of us when I say that these camps are a real learning experience. Having a different perspective on this sport was immensely helpful to me and, with the base I had already developed, I learned a lot. My goal is to bring this knowledge onto the water when we get back to training in May!