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High Kneeling Hooked Summer Campers

by Liz Pennisi
October, 2018

“I was pretty amazed how many boats there were.”  That was Ava Zahler’s first impression of the Washington Canoe Club when she showed up for summer camp two years ago. Her mother had signed her up for a Sidwell program run here on the Potomac to fill Ava’s mornings. She was spending afternoons at Rock Creek Park Horse Center where she is a summer camp CIT (counselor in training), as riding is a long-time favorite activity.  She knew little about canoeing but liked being on the water enough once she tried the camp that she came back this past summer for a week of all-day paddling. And this fall, she joined the aquatics program. Talk about jumping in with both feet.


Turner More, is also a new aquatics member. He has canoeing in his blood. Because his grandparents live in Cooperstown, New York, the start of the General Clinton 70-miler regatta, he’s been watching marathoners since age 5. So, when his reading teacher, WCCer Jim Ross, suggested he try the WCC summer camp—Turner eagerly signed on for a week. He liked it so much, he did all three weeks.


Both were hooked by the challenge of high kneel canoeing. At the camp, campers step into their first sprint boats right away. First, they try a stable kayak—and that’s a confidence builder, says Turner.  Then taking turns from the dock, he and the other campers either continue in kayak or have a chance to see what a sprint canoe is like. “I was really, really wobbly and fell over the second I got off the dock,” says Ava. Balance was quite a challenge, and steering was out of reach. As a result, “bracing was the best thing I’ve learned.” Indeed, her most memorable moment was staying upright for the “loop” from the dock. (Since novice paddlers can’t steer, their boat naturally makes a big circle).

Turner had trouble with balance, too. He was so wobbly that often he’d wind up swinging the paddle up over his head to stay upright—and that never worked. Finally, Gavin Ross took him in a C-2,  and after Turner made it 200 meters dry, “I said, ‘I can stay in the boat.’” And like Ava, making that first loop was a really, really big deal. Turner’s mom was thrilled: “Gavin was such a great teacher in the camp over the summer and he gave Turner the requisite confidence to try the kneeling skinny C-1 thing,” says Helen Quick. “Without sounding too hyperbolic, it has changed Turner’s life.”

Both were hooked by how hard the sport is. “I like the challenge of keeping the shoulder over the hip and over the knee so I’m not flopping around so much,” Turner explains. It’s like walking on a tightwire. He improved enough over the summer that he raced C-2 and K-2 in Middle States. Now, to get in the right frame of mind, he always taps the paddle twice on the dock before taking off.  He’s working on keeping the paddle more in the water and less in the air and hopes to do Nationals in 2019.

Paddling is more than a workout for Turner. “I used to be stressed out and [paddling] is pretty calming,” he explains. His mom says, how nice everyone is a welcome change from the throes of middle school. And while Ava finds horse-backing riding most calming for her, canoeing too “is relaxing because you have to have all your focus in the boat,” she says. “It takes your mind off other things.”

They both praise the structure and leadership of the camp, which was much more than just falling out of sprint boats. There were trips in aluminum canoes for lunch at Roosevelt Island and elsewhere. And the final day included a “manhunt” in the boathouse. “Gavin [Ross] ran the camp really well,” says Turner.  “The kids respect him.” Not just Gavin, but his brother Ian, along with Kathleen McNamee, Jim Ross and Dan Havens, lent a hand in helping both teenagers make that first loop. So, Ava, too, raced in Middle States. “Thank you, all my coaches,” she says.

“When I went to camp, I had no clue what I was getting into,” Ava recalls. But she’s planning to do war canoe this winter and work on balance. Getting better, she realizes “will take lots and lots of practice.”

September a Banner Month For WCC

by Liz Pennisi
September, 2018

Call it a paddling trifecta. In one weekend in September, WCC captured medals in three parts of world: Hawaii, Ireland, and Canada. Elsewhere WCcers challenged the local teams in outrigger and standard  canoe. But at the Pan American Championship in Halifax, Ian Ross and Ann Armstrong carried on a century-old WCC tradition—sprint canoeing. The Pan Am Championship attracts the best competitors from North, Central, and South America in all kinds of sports. Here the top athletes earn spots for their teams at next year’s Pan American Games, the steppingstone to the next Olympics. Ian took third in the C-1 500 and by taking 6th in the C1-1000 claimed a berth for the U.S. in that event in the Pan Am Games. Likewise, Ann qualified the U.S. for the women’s C1 200. But that was just the beginning of the fun for the both of them.

There was just one other C1 male from the United States and not enough competitors from any other single country except Canada race C4. So, Ian asked the organizers if he could pull together an informal boat for that race. They agreed, and he recruited an ex-world champion from Mexico, and a powerful C2 pair from Cuba – the second fastest C2 team in the world---to join him. With Ian directing his three partners with his limited Spanish, they managed to beat the best Canadian C4 by a boat length. “It was an experience that I will remember forever,” he says. Cuba doesn’t even have a C4, so for the Cubans this was a first and a highlight of their year. “Now we are all buddies,” says Ian.

Ian is buddies, too, with sprint canoe’s very best—the German team. He spent the summer training with them and plans to continue working with them the next couple of years. Every three weeks, the coach sends the 4-times-a-day workouts—which Ian must keep secret—and for much of December Ian is rejoining them in Florida. While in Germany, he often worked out with Sebastian Brendel, the world’s fastest C-1er. They’ve become such close friends that Sebastian gave Ian the paddle that he won the Olympics with.

Two weeks before the Canadian competition, Ian raced the World Championships in Portugal. So, it was a grueling transition to a new time zone and then driving the 1800 miles to Halifax. Afterward, he cherished being home with his family and on the Potomac for a few months. Often, he trains alone, but his childhood buddy Sean Havens sometimes keeps his company and Ian says he’s looking forward to the grind of next year’s training. “I’m getting faster, and that’s pretty motivating.”

Ann, 24, has just a few years of high-kneel canoeing under her belt, but tackled the C1 200- and 500- meter races and also teamed up with another American C-1er to race C-2 200, 500, and 1000 meters.

The key event for her was that 200-meter C1 race. Like Ian, she’s aligned with a non-U.S. team to help her train. This past spring, she joined Canada’s MicMac women in Florida and headed up to
Dartmouth outside Halifax a month early to train more with them. Their club is on the lake where the Pan Am Championships were held.  So, the championship “was the closest thing I will ever get to racing an international race on a home course,” she says. And that helped.

She’s still learning. While a tail wind helped her keep her stroke long and powerful so that she finally broke 50 seconds in the 200-meter race, her starts still need work. Toward that end she’s planning more high-intensity explosive workouts. In Halifax, the 1000 meters in a C2 was particularly challenging. Although she thrives on multi-kilometer canoe races, this sprint canoe distance is too long for a real sprint, and too short as an endurance race. “I don’t know how to train for it or come up with a [race] strategy.” Even so in her C1, she overtook women who beat her in Poland a few weeks earlier. So “it was a really good note to end the season.”

And like Ian, the most fun event in Halifax was a throw-together C4, an event that women don’t often have a chance to compete in. Her team –three U.S. women and one Canadian—was not the powerhouse Ian put together, “but we were laughing all the way up to the start line.”

Both Ian and Ann are quite proud to have contributed to WCC’s September successes. As Ann says, “It was an excellent trifecta.”

Pailolo 2018: Recounting the WCC Women’s Epic Race in Hawaii

by Lanny Shepherd

4,700 miles away from home. Towering 10 foot waves. No back-up crew or support boat; only 6 paddles and tired muscles to cover 26 miles of open ocean. This has the makings of a great adventure story—and is exactly what happened to the WCC women’s outrigger racing team. Their trip to Hawaii for the Pailolo Challenge this year is one they’ll never forget.

Spoiler alert: the story ends in triumph. The Newsletter laid out the results of the race in October. But the story of these six women and “this magical race” begins many months before.

In March of 2018, the women’s outrigger team opened practice for the upcoming season. Three times a week, the twenty or so women on the roster met at the club to train. As they began looking at the race calendar for 2018, several on the team wanted to do the Pailolo Challenge. The race, a 26 mile route between Maui and Molokai, is one of the most difficult on the schedule because of the challenging currents and strong swells in the channel. Nevertheless, by the end of July, six of WCC’s best female paddlers signed on for the race.

Kelly Rhodes coaches the women’s team. She is a master steerswoman, one of the best in the country, in addition to being a highly-regarded coach. But most of her paddling career is on flatter water or in calmer seas, so she knew she’d need some help at the stern of the outrigger for this race.

Kelly turned to Rachel Shackleford. Rachel was born in Hawaii, had done the Pailolo race twice, and has more open ocean paddling and steering experience than anyone at WCC. She was the perfect choice to steer that canoe, and she signed on for the adventure.

Theresa Haught, OLY, also joined the boat. The two-time Olympic kayaker was a welcome addition to the team. Theresa took a break from paddling to raise a family, but she took the sport back up a few years ago and was ready for a new challenge.

Cheryl Zook and Pam Boteler also signed up. The two women had been paddling together since 1994, when they started in dragon boats. Lisa Ramm took the last spot in the boat. This was Lisa’s first ocean race, but the young powerhouse had been training hard and really improved her skills in the past year. She was up for the adventure.

Kelly and Rachel were a little nervous about taking a team of flatwater canoeists into the rough seas off of Maui. But the women brought nearly 150 years of paddling experience to the boat; something they would rely on come race day.

With seven weeks until the race, Kelly designed the training plan. The team practiced ocean water paddling in the generally flat Potomac. They chased every boat wake and wind gust to get the feel for how a swell raises up the stern of the canoe and surges it forward. More importantly, Kelly had Rachel (who was the steerswoman) call out a “push” from a swell during practice runs, so the team could practice how to respond to the wave and improve their communication. The team practiced three days a week, and the women were expected to train on their own on the “off” days as much as they could.

With everyone’s busy schedule, they rarely got all six in the same boat during practice. So their first true trial run didn’t come until August, when the team competed in the Hoe Wa`a & Sunova Waterman's Challenge, off the coast of Atlantic City. The team won the race by more than nine minutes. They also took advantage of the opportunity to practice all the skills they’d need for Pailolo - bailing the boat, taking food breaks, calling changes, and deciding on the seating arrangement.

A few weeks after the race in Atlantic City, it was time to fly to Hawaii. The women’s team was accompanied by two WCC men’s outrigger teams. Not only was the camaraderie amazing, but the physical support was helpful too. On race day, when the women’s team launched their boat off the beach to get into starting position for the race, the men helped them get over the breaking waves and into the open water. It was quite a chaotic scene on a small strip of beach, and one of the other women’s boats did flip over in the surf.

The six women are also very grateful to two people. Former WCCer and current Hawaii paddler Sookie Kunst offered up her home for them to stay in; a huge blessing. Sookie’s friendship, pointers, and beautiful home really helped the team - it also helped everyone save a little money. The second is Rachel’s sister, who lives in Hawaii and helped the team secure the use of an outrigger from her club. It worked out perfectly, as the Hawaii-based team, Kawaihae Canoe Club, was doing a race in the opposite direction the following week, meaning they wouldn’t have to move it after WCC finished the Pailolo.

Finally, race day. At Pailolo, the different divisions do a staggered start. The women’s teams started the race at 0800. The men’s boats began around 0900, with the Red Bull-sponsored canoe beginning the race at 0920 (the importance of this will be evident soon).

The conditions for the race were not easy, and downright dangerous for a team that wasn’t ready for them. The wind was coming from astern, but not directly, and the current was coming at the canoes; this made the waves high and short. Wind and waves from this direction can easily lift the outrigger—called the ama—out of the water and flip the canoe. Indeed, several boats did flip, or “huli,” during the race.

Thanks to the wonderful preparation and excellent steersmanship of Rachel, the WCC women were ready for it. Rachel had been closely monitoring tidal, wind, and current conditions. She chose to take the boat on an “inside” track for the 18 miles of the race that parallel the coastline. This approach kept the canoe out of the current and in more eddy-like water, with more predictable and manageable waves. It was a creative approach that really paid off - several other teams complemented Rachel on her approach after the race.

As the race was underway, many of the other teams were followed by escort boats and had four additional teams of paddlers who would rotate out of the canoe, to keep muscles fresh. The WCC women didn’t do that; the same six women paddled the whole distance - an “iron” team.

Despite being “river people” (as the locals affectionately called them) and lacking a secondary paddling team, the WCC women were the first boat across the finish line! This surprised everyone, including themselves, and in fact led to a rather anticlimactic finish since hardly anyone was ready to applaud them and there were no cameras or drones in position to capture the moment. The aforementioned Red Bull boat came across the finish line three minutes later - with a couple escort boats, drones, and cameras ready at the shoreline. This team is almost always the first across the finish line in a race, so for the WCC women to beat them is quite an accomplishment!

The impressive first-place finish ranks near the top of the best-ever races for the WCC women, according to Pam. And it took a perfect team - the team worked hard to avoid negative discussions and to keep all the practices positive and constructive, and every member of the team sung the praises of the others. From Rachel’s steering to Kelly’s leadership, to Lisa’s strong calls and bailing skills to Theresa’s power, to Cheryl’s steady power in seat 5 and Pam setting the pace, each woman successfully played a unique role. The WCC men’s teams at Pailolo were also impressed, commenting on the amazing preparation and teamwork in the women’s boat.

Their only regret - so few photos! Their surprisingly early finish and the lack of an escort boat meant they have precious few images of the team in the water at Pailolo. But the experience, the team, and of course the result will go down in the WCC history books.

For These Juniors, Nationals Was A Family Affair

The second of a two part story about the WCC Juniors participation in the 2018 ACA Sprint National Championships.

by Liz Pennisi

Three Sisters among the five juniors—and one hair stylist--representing the WCC in Oklahoma

At 17, most girls are trying to put as much space between them and their younger siblings as possible. Not Megan Schuette. She’s one of the new additions to the junior sprint team, following in the footsteps of two younger sisters, Helen (14) and Becca (16). “It was something we could all do together,” she says. “And it’s probably the best decision that I’ve ever made.”  And when Helen, Becca and three other juniors headed to Oklahoma in August (see other story) for the ACA Sprint National Championships, she was right there with them. She wasn’t ready to compete this year and instead became the team’s hairstylist. Daily she would fashion intricate, innovative braids guaranteed to keep hair off the shoulders. “We had the best hair,” says Helen. And they had the best time, as well.

For the Washington Canoe Club’s younger racers, Nationals looms large in their lives. A chance to rub elbows with the country’s best spring athletes, this 4 day competition inspires awe.  His first time at this competition, WCC’s Paulo Ferreira reveled in seeing so many people that he didn’t have to explain what a sprint boat was to.

And the event inspires extraordinary performances. Just ask Becca and Helen.  Helen got her first taste of high-kneel canoeing while on a family vacation at the American Canoe Association’s Sugar Island. Jimmy Ross showed her how to do it. Then a week later, at a crab feast, he got both her and her sister Becca hooked.  A fifth-grader then, Helen was intrigued by the fact that this was a sport that none of her friends did and by that fact that both her dad and grand-dad excelled at it. “I can totally do this if I stick with it,” she thought.

Becca agreed. That winter they did war canoe, even in the sub-freezing weather when ice formed on the paddle as it exited the frigid Potomac. Then they began the 3-days-a-week practice under coach Kathleen McNamee.  “I haven’t really looked back,” says Becca.

Not that it was easy. For months, turning the boat eluded Helen.  When she first reached mile rock, she was stuck, and only with Tomas Ferreira nudging her boat at one end from one side and Ann Armstrong pushing the other end from the other, did she manage to get around the rock—only to fall in 250 meters later. It took about a year, and then by bracing the whole turn, turning toward the same side she paddles lefty, and making sure she wasn’t too close to any rocks or shore, did she conquer that challenge.  

A year into the sport, they became C-2 partners. Becca steers, and Helen sets the pace. Last year at Nationals, they took 3rd together in both the 200 and 500-meter events, having set a goal of beating two out of the five boats in the races.  “There are moments when I think, ‘why do I do it with her?’” Helen explains. “But I couldn’t ask for a better C-2 partner.”  As for Becca, she would much rather do C-2 than C-1.

This summer, when the three sisters did a three-week summer course/camp in New Hampshire, they got out in their sprint boats on the local river daily at 6 am before sitting down to their class in mechanical engineering precision design. And in Oklahoma last month, that extra effort paid off. At their first nationals a year ago, their goal was to have fun; this time around they wanted to show their times had improved as well. And they did.

In her C-1 Helen managed to stay upright and in her lane, bracing just a few times. Becca struggled with wind on the wrong side, steering, and coping with wakes in her C1. She was going against juniors who’d been paddling much longer and had more national competitions under their belts. But with her sister in the boat with her, her confidence soared.

“Let’s do it,” they decided as they approached the start line for the C2-500. After the start, they got in a groove, with Helen really able to stretch out her stroke and go fast, and Becca steering well. They reeled in a boat ahead of them, and then almost reached the first- place contender, finishing a strong second. “Everything just sort of went right,” Helen recalls. “It was fun to do, and it was fun to do well.”

Becca came back to D.C. determined to work on her C1 times, on paddling in wakes and getting faster and stronger in the C2. She has her work cut out for her. A junior in an international baccalaureate program, she’s also a captain of her school’s robotics team, where between January and mid-February, it will build a life-sized 120-pound robot capable of some pre-determined tasks.  So paddling will have to be squeezed in somehow. But she’s come a long way from the 5-year-old who was afraid of the water and hated being at the WCC. Now, she says, “I love coming down to the club.”

Helen too loves the river and loves how helpful everyone is. “Whenever I see a heron, I think, ‘that’s my grandfather.”  She plays soccer, which requires a lot of communication and team work, and is a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is a little more like paddling in that success requires great form.  Many times, be it a from a hard practice or a long wait teetering the start line, “I might not like it, but afterwards I really feel great,” she adds.

Sister Megan is coming to feel likewise. A soccer player and a former rower, Megan loves the rhythm and repetitiveness of paddling. “You get to do this one motion over and over, and when you do it right, you feel like you are flying.”  She started out in a kayak, but has come to prefer high-kneel canoe. Her goal is nationals next year, not as a hair-stylist, but as a competitor.

Nor have they settled for just sprint racing.   As a juniors’ team, they’ve done the General Clinton Canoe Relay Race. Twice the junior girls have competed in the Monumental, the local six-person outrigger race on the Anacostia River. Then in August, they along with Erin Rhodes and Victoria Stocker  competed in Atlantic City. “I can’t describe the feeling of going out into the open ocean and seeing nothing but horizon,” says Megan. “It was daunting, and also amazing.” They can’t wait to do more racing next year.

WCC Middle States Regatta

Middle States Regatta has morphed through the ages.  New events, different competitors help long time traditions keep up with the times.

by Liz Pennisi

Tilting photo of Dusty Rhodes and Bill Jr. who were partners for many years. Bill Jr. was the champion tilter.

Tilting photo of Pappy Havens with Bill and Dusty (staged for the camera)

October 6 will be a busy day on the Potomac for the Washington Canoe Club, and everyone is invited. This year’s Middle States Regatta will feature the usual sprint kayak and high-kneel canoe events. And while there’s no tilting or Canadians expected, there will be events for outriggers surf skis, and other craft, where both seasoned racers and recreational novices try to see how fast they can make it down 200-, 500-, 1000- and 10,000-meter courses.  Come help contribute to the colorful history of this competition. Here’s what you will be part of.

No WCCer alive today can remember the first running of Middle States. But in the 1950s, when canoeing was in its heyday, this race was a necessary steppingstone to national and international competition. Back then, there was no concrete pad, just a ramp that angled down to the water from the boathouse doors. There were scores of canoe clubs; even Potomac Boat Club hosted a few Olympic-level paddlers.  So the country was divided into five regions. In early August, hundreds of paddlers from the middle Atlantic States converged either in Washington D.C. or Philadelphia to earn a chance to go the national competition. You had to place third or better, so competition was quite fierce, not just to get on the podium but also to earn points toward a highly coveted “club trophy.” The medals, each with a white ceramic WCC canoe emblem embedded in the metal, were motivators as well—they were so stunning that some winners turned them into necklaces.

Men vied for these spots in kayak and high-kneel canoe races. In the early years, this was the same boat, with a seat slipped in for the kayak event, while a platform on the floor of the canoe made it suitable for high kneeling. Women were restricted to kayaks and there were no mixed team boats. Rivalries were intense and sometimes, cut-throat. At some point, the WCC kayakers all switched to using left-hand control blades because so many of the usual right-hand control paddles disappeared after regattas.  At first the courses were the same as they are today, but complaints about the bend in the 1000-meter course caused the races to shift to the Virginia side of the river. All except for tilting, which was the headline event at the end of the day.

Tilting or water jousting

Tilting is water jousting. One paddler maneuvers the canoe while his partner stands on a platform mounted on the gunnels brandishing an 8-foot wooden pole with a plumber’s helper topped by an inflatable ball tied to one end. The ball was wrapped in canvas.  The goal is to knock the rival jouster off the platform and into the water. The last event of the day, it sometimes decided the fate of the points trophy. There was no time limit, and jousters “would beat the hell out of each other,” recalls Dan Havens, then a young boy.

The WCC had a secret weapon:  Dan Havens’ Uncle Bill was unbeatable. He won his first tournament at age 15 and in the next 33 years, lost only once—to his brother Frank. “It was like he was glued in,” says Bill’s son Bill “Dodge” Havens.  With Dusty Rhodes (father of Blaise and Will) at the stern, the duo got so good that they could tilt against two strong men--standing on a dock--and still win. Before the event, Dusty would go around with a pad and pencil and ask the competition which side they preferred to fall off on. Bill had one move where he’d fake a jab, then hook the opponent under the elbow and pull him off the canoe.  After Bill won a string of national championships undefeated, tilting was dropped from nationals and from middle states.

Tilting’s demise was the bellwether of the WCC's sprint racing decline. In the late 1950s, the rules changed and club membership declined.  At the same time, other canoe-racing sports were on the rise: downriver and whitewater stole the show from sprint racing. Lots of canoe clubs went under.  Participation in Middle States dwindled, and there were some years when the lack of organizers meant there was no regatta at all. “Flatwater lost its pizzazz,” says Dan Havens.

But those that hung in there made the best of it. In the 1980s, paddlers from New York and a few other clubs were still coming down. It became a time to have fun and to try new events. “everyone raced in everything they could,” recalls WCCer Linda Ross. “We were in and out of boats all the time.”

WCC’s Jack Brosius then came up with a great idea.  He helped develop a masters program and in 1991, went to the Canadian Masters championships with his paddlers. So to host Canadians on D.C. soil, Middle States shifted to Columbus Day weekend, which coincides with the three-day Canadian Thanksgiving holiday.  Four or five Canadian clubs would show up, and their young paddlers raced on Saturday in the usual Middle States, and Sunday was devoted to masters.

WCCers got to compete against the likes of Olympic Gold Medalist Larry Cain—and even though he put a resistance band around his boat, he still won, but he was very nice about it.  Then, WCCers joined forces with the Canadians to fill the 15-person war canoes brought down by them. Those races replaced tilting as the headline event of the day. A WCC-homemade Thanksgiving dinner topped off the regatta, with roasted turkey, yams, cranberry sauce and lots of pie.

Over time, Canadian participation got harder and harder. The exchange rate got prohibitive, and travel became more onerous. Both the WCCers and the Canadians who started that tradition began to age out or leave the WCC.  The WCC lost access to the building, where several clubs tend to stay during that weekend. And with less competition, fewer people wanted to make the trip. By 2013, no more Canadians were making it down for the races.

That’s about when Charlie Johnson, who built his own racing sea kayaking 2007 and then joined the WCC in 2010 and raced and helped with that year’s Middle States, took charge of organizing.

It was another low point in Middle States’ history. In 2014, Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club showed up but no other outside clubs have come back since. In 2016, it was just a one-day event that attracted just 45 paddlers. “It was viewed as a local race,” says Charlie.

So he and the other organizers began thinking how to get more WWCers involved. In 2017, they got the East Coast Outrigger Racing Association to sanction the regatta, meaning it would could toward that regional organizations point’s trophies. The 75 paddlers that year was “a nice big jump,” Charlie recalls.

Charlie gets lots of help every year: Jim Ross mans the start line; Linda Ross and Bonnie Havens run the timers; Lisa Ramm and Louise Flynn take care of the food, putting on a BBQ dinner instead of a Thanksgiving one.

Charlie is spicing up the events. So now there’s a one-man outrigger relay event, where a paddler waits in the water and switches into the boat midrace. Kathleen McNamee emphasizes the “fun” side. She mixes and matches team boats, with canoeists trying out kayaks and vice versa. She tries to make the boats as even as possible.  “It’s a great way to give the kids some experience before they go to nationals and it’s a good way to get everyone together.”

Come join the fun.( And rumor has it, the Canadians will be there, too!)

Many thanks to Bill “Dodge” and Dan Havens, Kathleen McNamee, Jack Brosius, Charlie Johnson, and Jim and Linda Ross for contributing to this article.

WCC Youth Head West to National Competition

First of a two part story about the WCC Juniors participation in the 2018 ACA Sprint National Championships.

by Liz Pennisi

In the middle of the dog days of a hot D.C. summer, 15 WCCers headed to Oklahoma City for the 2018 ACA Sprint National Championships, the premiere flatwater sprint race in the United States. Below are the stories of two of the five juniors (ages 12 to 16) who represented the club in Oklahoma City August 1 to 4. In part two of the series, we will catch up with the other three after the race.  
NOTE: Part one was written before the Juniors team left for the race.

At age 10, Paulo Ferreira decided to follow in his brothers’ footsteps. Both had paddled for the WCC as teenagers, one as a sprint kayaker and the other as a high-kneel canoeist. What Paulo remembers most about his initial foray into sprint boats was how refreshing it was to fall in—again, and again, and again—in the sultry summer heat. Now 12, he’s preparing for his first Nationals. Like the other juniors, he doesn’t yet own a sprint boat, so he will be racing in a WCC Cougar, one of 15  boats that Kathleen McNamee and Gavin Ross are trailering to the race, and using a club paddle. Between running all winter, track practices with his school’s club and paddling four times a week since early spring, he feels prepared.

“My starts are satisfactory,” he says. “I look ahead and dig my paddle the water.” For his favorite event, the 200-meter race, he plans to keep that initial burst of energy up for the entire race.  With the 1000-meter event, he knows he will settle in the middle of the race, but hopefully not slow down too much, and then expects to push with a big burst of energy toward the finish. His goal is to do 1000 meters in 6 minutes or so.  He’s also planning on racing the 5K.

This ambition from a boy who professes that exercise is his least favorite thing to do, particularly when it means getting up early on a Saturday morning for his Junior Team practice. (Video games and hanging out with friends top his wish list of preferred activities.)  “If I didn’t have the club, I’d be fat, not skinny and strong,” he admits. On race days, he eats a smoothie and some fruit for breakfast, but after a hard day on the water, “I like to eat as much as I can get,” he says.

Asked what would make him more confident about Nationals, Paulo says it would be to have a good coach alongside him all the way down the course—ideally juniors coach Kathleen McNamee, as she is very straightforward in telling him and the others what they need to do and then quick to praise them at the end of a piece for what they’ve done well, he says.  

He’s heard a lot about how Nationals can be a team-bonding experience. “So, I’m looking forward to everything,” he says, “except maybe the racing.”

Fellow junior Erin Rhodes, age 15, knows that feeling well. She will be heading to this year’s Nationals a veteran. Last year she went to Florida as a high-kneeler.  “I went with no expectations except to have fun,” she recalls. But like Paulo, she, too, was quite stressed about the racing.  

Still she did well, taking on 200-, 500-, and 1000-meter events.  And she’s also a veteran of the General Clinton Regatta Relay and Generation Gap races, the Monumental OC-6 outrigger race,  the Frank Havens 10K, Middle States, and has even done a 5K race in San Diego in a surf ski with her mom.

That’s part of the opportunities of being part of a paddling family. Erin likes to say she came into the world already a seasoned paddler. Her mother, Kelly, the women’s outrigger coach, paddled while pregnant, even steering an OC-6 race in Hawaii before Erin was born.

Erin’s first clear memories of being in a boat was being in the front of a standard canoe,  with a miniature paddle, as her parents ferried across the St. Lawrence River to Sugar Island, an American Canoe Association summer camp spot accessible only by water.  Then about age 5, “I think I was kind of ambivalent,” she recalls.

She’s come to love that island-- and paddling: “It’s very relaxing; you get to be with family, and paddling every day is great.”  And she’s equally fond of the Washington Canoe Club: “I love the people, the sense of community and events like crab feasts and oyster roasts.”

It was at a crab feast in 2015 Year, that Jimmy Ross got her to try a sprint boat—the high-kneel canoe.  With two strokes she was out of the boat and into the water, but it was fun and she was looking for something athletic to do, so she stuck with it. “I really like to go fast,” she says.  But then she developed shoulder problems, so she has now switched to kayaking.

Although both the sprint canoe and sprint kayak require excellent balance, her canoe experience did not translate directly to the kayak. Canoeing is all on one side, but kayaking entails rotation from side to side. “And you use your legs in a totally different way,” Erin explains.

She has yet to master pushing with her legs and staying balanced—and that affects her technique and tends to slow her down. And when racing, she has to think not only about technique but also about breathing. “I tend to hold my breath,” Erin says.  She needs more time in the boat to fix those things, and knows her inexperience may keep her from getting a medal this Nationals. “But I am going to try my best.”

This past fall, Erin started high school and discovered a new water sport: rowing. She erged with the team through the winter and then has been on the water mostly in a 4-person shell. “It’s made me stronger in terms of general conditioning,” Erin says. It’s been tough juggling practices for the two activities, but it’s not tough to say which is more important: Erin sees rowing as a time-limited activity that may last through college – “unless I get really good.”  Paddling, however is for life, “especially since my family is so into it.” Her mother, Kelly, spends as much time training on the water as possible and her father, Blaise, does likewise. Blaise spent his youth at the canoe club, and both parents have raced Nationals many times.

As a veteran, Erin has this advice for the Nationals to the newbies: “Give yourself time to warm up and don’t stress out.

“There’s always next year.”    

Addendum: At Nationals, both Erin and Paulo did better than they expected. Paulo raced in 9 races, including jumping into K2 and K4 team boats with boys from South Florida and Hawaii. His K1-1000 time was 5:26, better than his personal best of 5:40 and well beyond the 6 minutes he worried about. In the K2--500, he made it to finals. And he earned silver in both the K4 500 and 1000-meter races. “I didn’t believe I would medal at all at Nationals,” he says. His biggest challenge was the K1 Bantam 200.  Several competitor were inexperienced it was a windy day, so they had trouble getting to and staying in the starting gates, and some even tipped over. “I was waiting on the water for 20 minutes, and my arms were exhausted.” But he’s looking forward to next year’s nationals. So is Erin. Her favorite race was when she was partnered with WCC teammate Romy Smith, but Romy has now moved to Austria. So in addition to working on better times and better balance, Erin will be on the lookout for a new partner.

Remembering John Lederer

From Sheila Brady
John loved the club so much and loved his paddling more and loved Wed night gathering after paddling with stories and food.
John, for everyone's  peace of mind, died peacefully, it was so sudden with no health conditions that he or we knew. 
He died in his  treasured cottage in Fairhaven on the Chesapeake, where he loved to paddle and sail in our early years there.

An American Legend Crosses The Final Finish Line

Four time Olympian, Frank Havens (1923-2018) the WCC Gold Medalist from 1952, died today, July 22, 2018, just days before his 94 birthday.

Frank was a life-long member of the Washington Canoe Club, his father having introduced Frank and his brother Bill (WCC Olympian, 1948) to the sport as children. Frank was beloved at the WCC and many local and national races and awards are named in his honor, most notably the Frankie Havens 10K raced in the last weekend of October each year.

Frank was pre-deceased by his beloved wife Katie and surviving are all three children, Dan, Frank Jr. (Chip) and Scott and several grandchildren including WCC’s own Sean Havens. The WCC family offers its deepest sympathies to the extended Havens Family and the many, many club members and paddlers around the country who mourn the passing of this exception man.

Read more about Frank's amazing life:

OLYMPIC FEVER: Frank's amazing 1952 Olympics story via the The Canadian Canoe Museum.


Rain or shine, WCC loves the General Clinton Regatta

by Liz Pennisi
May, 2018

Spring is here, which means WCC made the annual pilgrimage to Oneonta, NY to race on the Susquehanna River in the General Clinton Canoe regatta.

This year, WCC sent nine teams, including a junior’s team, for a total of 59 competitors, varying in age and coming from every discipline of paddling in the club. The biggest year ever!

The biggest race of the weekend, the Grand Prix Relay, is a 30 mile stock-aluminum canoe relay with 5 legs. Teams consist of 6-10 canoeists and one canoe. Teams must change at each exchange point buoy (and the changes are the BEST and most FUN part of the race!). WCC teams took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, and fun was had by all teams, no matter where they finished.

The following day was the 70 miler, which runs from Cooperstown, NY to Bainbridge, NY.  Finishing the "70" is quite an accomplishment for any paddler! This year, two WCC paddlers, Pam Boteler and Kelly Rhodes came in 2nd place overall in the women’s category! Stay tuned for an upcoming story describing a WCC first-timers experience paddling the 70 miler.

Why does WCC do this race, you ask? In memory of a former WCC paddler, Mitch Madruga, a US service member, and winner of the 70 miler solo kayak who passed away in 2006 while training for the race. WCC decided that year to send 20 club members to do the Memorial Day weekend race in Mitch's memory. It was so much fun we've kept going back. Cheers, Mitch.

Start of the OC-6 Season - Rigging the Canoes

It’s that time again. The docks are back and it’s time to start the OC-6 season! This begins with the rigging of the canoes.
Most teams on the East Coast rig with straps, but WCC likes to rig with rope. While this takes a bit longer, rigging with rope helps us maintain a connection with Hawaiian tradition. It also puts less strain on the hulls of our old and/or fragile canoes.

Rigging the canoes is a team sport and this weekend, there was a great showing of both experienced members and racers looking to pitch-in and learn.

Looks like we're set for another great season!

Happy Holidays from WCC!

WCC's boathouse restoration project makes front page news.

The  April 2017 edition of the Northwest Current, a community newspaper, includes a article that gives important exposure to local efforts. 

Boathouse Rehabilitation Committee Chairman Chris Brown helped provide perspective, noting the Club's commitment to preserving our historic landmark building, continuing our community events and outreach and promoting paddle sports on the Potomac for recreational users and athletes. That members maintain those commitments - even as they "endure portable toilets and outdoor rinse showers" as the article archly notes - only underscores our dedication to the cause. 

The article also included comments from Chris Graae, the architect working on the renovation plans. Check it out here.

The WCC Mile Rock Challenge

by Meredith Brandt

The Washington Canoe Club is renowned for encouraging and producing high caliber athletes. It’s home to scores of national champions and over two dozen Olympic paddlers, including two gold medalists.

But, there’s another thing the Washington Canoe Club is known for: its community of like-minded water enthusiasts and ambassadors. And, as our water sports grow more and more competitive, there’s one longstanding race that reminds us that camaraderie on the water is what’s most important.

The event began in the 1990s as a 5k fun race to get members of all paddling skills together to gain racing experience. While it’s clear that the Club’s race team members didn’t lose momentum, the Mile Rock Challenge did. By the early 2000s the race disbanded, but was soon revived by a former WCC sprint coach in its current format: 2 laps to Mile Rock and back (1 lap if you’re on a standup paddle board)

Today, the Mile Rock Challenge is run by the Aquatics Committee and is not only a good opportunity for WCC team members to log training hours, it’s also as a way for Club members to get exposed to other types of paddlesports, introduce kids to paddling, and promote camaraderie among WCC members.

The Mile Rock Challenge is only open to WCC members. Races takes place on the first Sunday of each month from May to September at 10:00 a.m. Register for free the morning of the races and refer to the WCC Facebook page for any updates or changes.

Not race ready? Volunteer with the Aquatics Committee and gain experience in regatta timing. Contact for more information.
Will we see you at the next Mile Rock Challenge?

Animated Skeletons Will Teach You How to Be a Better Paddler

What’s the difference between an elite and novice paddler? And how much better for your body is a good stroke technique? Watch these two paddling skeletons and find out…

This video comes from the Water Based Research Unit, which is based at Bond University on Australia’s paddling mecca of the Gold Coast and studies the physiological effects of surfing and paddling.

For this experiment, the Unit drafted a local elite paddler (can you guess who?*) to produce a 3D model of how your body should look when you paddle. Next up they got an amateur paddler to provide the contrast, and that contrast is quite stark.

The elite athlete looks very fluid and smooth, using their entire body to gain maximum power and leverage (pay attention to the hips), whereas the novice paddler looks stiff and jerky. As the Unit says:

“Note the use of the entire body in the elite paddler, less right sided elbow flexion and less rotation through the lumbar spine.”

We all know that a good technique is a good thing for racing, not just because it’ll make you paddle faster but also (generally speaking) it’s easier on your body. However it’s difficult to really visualize what a good technique is; I’ve seen a lot of paddling demonstrations over the years, but this might just be the single most innovative and effective way to show it.

What’s the difference between an elite and novice paddler? And how much better for your body is a good stroke technique? Watch these two paddling skeletons and find out…

This video comes from the Water Based Research Unit, which is based at Bond University on Australia’s paddling mecca of the Gold Coast and studies the physiological effects of surfing and paddling.

For this experiment, the Unit drafted a local elite paddler (can you guess who?*) to produce a 3D model of how your body should look when you paddle. Next up they got an amateur paddler to provide the contrast, and that contrast is quite stark.

The elite athlete looks very fluid and smooth, using their entire body to gain maximum power and leverage (pay attention to the hips), whereas the novice paddler looks stiff and jerky. As the Unit says:

“Note the use of the entire body in the elite paddler, less right sided elbow flexion and less rotation through the lumbar spine.”

We all know that a good technique is a good thing for racing, not just because it’ll make you paddle faster but also (generally speaking) it’s easier on your body. However it’s difficult to really visualize what a good technique is; I’ve seen a lot of paddling demonstrations over the years, but this might just be the single most innovative and effective way to show it.

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