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Member Profile: Samantha Stewart
Stand-up paddler sits down…in outrigger

by Liz Pennisi

Samantha Stewart had never even heard of the Washington Canoe Club until she had a former sprint-kayak Olympian as a patient four years ago. A physical therapist and avid SUP racer, she was intrigued by how dreamy eyed Theresa Haught got talking about her life at the WCC and racing outrigger.  Later, the two would see each other at SUP/Outrigger races, and then one day they ran into each other at their local gym. When Theresa suggested Sam carpool down to the WCC to try sitting down to paddle, she accepted. “I wanted to know what made it so great [for Theresa],” says Sam. 

Last August, “I came and I loved it, so I kept coming back,” she recalls.  She finds it the perfect combination of a team sport and being on the water—two things she loves. “There’s something about having to dig in and work hard and knowing everyone else is relying on you,” Sam says. So she and Theresa commute from Annapolis several times a week to paddle at the WCC.

Theresa had teased her that she could only come down if she were good and Sam did not disappoint. In April she raced OC-1 in the Carolina Cup and won. She loves the challenge of reading water and enjoys it even more than SUP racing. But her ability should come as no surprise. Brought up by a single mom, she nonetheless had a closet of sports equipment bought second hand—kickball, softball, lacrosse. She even played lacrosse her first year for her college but found the physical therapy program too demanding for her to continue. 

Instead she started running and after four months entered the Disney half marathon. The fireworks at the start and the cheers hooked her.  Marathons became routine—she’s done 11. Locally, her whole family, including her 78-year-old grandfather do support, honking their horn at her as she speeds by. Then once a year she races either a half marathon at a different national park with about 15 friends--some runners and some not--camping and hiking as well as racing for a long weekend. 

It’s a tradition Sam started while in doing a 4-month rotation for graduate school in Phoenix, Arizona. In those few months, she convinced her running and hiking partners to combine both at Yosemite. (Hiking and traveling are other passions for her). The next year, they headed to Zion, where they rented a 50-acre ranch with its own fishing pond.  This June, they went to Grand Teton National Park.  

Looking for a new athletic challenge in 2017, she signed up for a 6-week SUP course in Annapolis. “Being out on the water was a new challenge—it’s more unpredictable and you really have to work with it and read it,” she says. At the beginning of her second year, she bought a race board, a 14’ x 23” NSP Sonic,  and competed in 12 races before discovering how much she loved outrigger. 

Her marathon experience really helped her through her first OC-6 practice, a 2.5-hour, hot run toward Wilson Bridge and back. As with many runners, miles 20 to 23 are the hardest part for her—“you are getting hungry and you know you are not really done,”-- Sam explains. But finishing them has really taught her “there’s always a little bit more in the tank.” She dipped deep into that tank that day. One our her earlier practices coincided with the memorial service for Frank Havens, which further impressed Sam. “I didn’t know anyone, but I could feel this was a strong community, rich in history,” she recalls.  “I fell in love with it as much as Theresa.” 

Member Profile: John Tambornino

by Lanny Shepherd

A lot of WCC club life revolves around racing. But nearly every member also loves being out on the water for another reason - the peace, quiet, solitude, and sense of renewal it can bring. And those of us who spend more time paddling recreationally, especially in solo boats, get to experience the best of this. Recreational paddler John Tambornino, with his passion for both nature (and restoring it) and the kayak his late father made for him, can teach all of us a lesson in finding peace on the water. 

John joined WCC in 2010, after walking past the club and asking a member about it. His initial reason for joining was simply to find a place to store his kayak as he was living in a condo in the city, but he quickly came to value his membership far beyond the convenience of it.

Now about that kayak? John’s personal craft is an 18-foot sea kayak, handmade by his late father out of beautiful wood. John’s father passed away unexpectedly shortly after completing it, before he could deliver it to his son, and before John could thank him  for it. At first, John was reluctant to even use the boat, but he managed to get it from Arizona to DC, and two years later, finally decided that his father made it for him to enjoy, so he took the kayak for its maiden voyage. John was amazed at how smooth, agile, and fast the handmade boat was in the river. His father was truly a skilled craftsman, and it’s easy to understand the deep emotional bond that John has with his boat.

Besides his unique and gorgeous kayak, John stands out as well for the large hauls of trash he collects from the river each time he goes for a paddle. He says that collecting  trash was never his intention, but he can’t resist collecting it, and once he got started, he couldn’t stop. He says he has often returned with more than 100 pieces of slimy, floating trash after a paddle. But even though the image of dirty, used styrofoam cups isn’t exactly appealing, John has a different perspective. “Picking it up is not a chore,” John says, “but instead  brings me peace, like tending a wound, or helping someone.  We become connected through caring, whether to other people or to nature.  So for me picking up trash is part of the experience of connecting with nature, in the same way we tend to ourselves and those we love.”

When asked what he’s noticed over his years of collecting trash, John notes that the quantity in the river may have  decreased a bit in recent years, but the amount is still “shocking” and is highest after storms, when rainwater runoff carries all sorts of things into the river.  

John enjoys taking friends out  paddling, but he looks forward to his solo paddles on the Potomac the most. John says nearly every time he goes out “something magical happens.” He delights in seeing the local wildlife in their natural habitat, and the change of seasons and weather while afloat. He calls being  on the water “often a spiritual experience” and takes comfort in the quiet, stillness, sense of peace, and wonder of nature that it brings. He says that after his kayak trips “everything feels different, it’s like I come back to myself.” 

John offers a few tips to all the rest of us. First, help care for the river which we all enjoy. Avoid using  Styrofoam or plastics bags in your personal life, since these are the greatest blight.  When out  paddling, pick something up when you see it.  Every bit helps, you likely will feel better for having done so,  and others will see you, and be inspired to pick something up.  Then someday the river will be as it was, and how it belongs; peaceful, wondrous, and free from human debris. 

His other advice concerns refinishing a kayak (or any other water craft). He encourages anyone considering such a project to start by first seeking advice. There’s always someone with experience who can help guide you and avoid mistakes. John has made several while working on his boat which could have been avoided in hindsight.

Finally, a member profile is not complete without a good story. John actually has two: 

One afternoon last summer, John was kayaking down to Anacostia when he got caught in an intense storm. It was impossible to paddle, and massive wakes ​​being caused by the large boats that were trying to get off the river quickly didn’t make it any easier. Logs and debris collided into his kayak and visibility was near zero. He finally had to climb up the concrete wall at East Potomac Park and lift his boat over the chain-link fence to get out of the storm. A very nice park maintenance crew offered to drive him and his boat back to WCC in their truck.  He says it was a harrowing experience, as it was the kind of situation where even experienced paddlers could drown, and his boat easily could have been smashed against the concrete wall by the waves. 

Another time, somebody tried to steal his kayak!  He was on the shore with a friend, not paying attention to the shore, then when he looked up, someone was towing his kayak away, tied up to theirs. John caught up with them in his friend's boat and asked why they were towing his boat; they said it was floating free and they were trying to find the owner...  Perhaps they were telling the truth, John says, but it may have been the end of his kayak had he not caught  them.

We are proud to have John as one of WCC’s recreational paddlers. So next time you see him around, stop to say hi - and be encouraged to pick up some litter on the river as well. All of us will appreciate it, but none more so than John.

“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.”

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

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.

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)

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.

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.


WCC Member Profile: Lisa Ramm: The name says it all

by Liz Pennisi

When Lisa Ramm turned 30, she decided she needed to change her ways. Her girlfriends were all running, but her questionable knees prevented her from joining in. She had a recreational kayak, so googled "kayak," "Olympic," and "Washington DC."  The search yielded the Center for Excellence, a D.C.-based whitewater slalom training group and the Washington Canoe Club. Leary her "just do it" personality would lead her to precarious waterfalls in a whitewater boat, she instead called up the canoe club.  "Just do it," has made her an integral WCC member, in multiple sports and as the entertainment committee chair. Yes, she’s the one to thank for the great oyster roasts, crab feasts, and so forth.

But back in August 2012, her first sprint kayaking experiences involved a lot of swimming; yet she was drawn to the challenge and to the friendliness of the WCC Masters' group.  By the new year, she'd joined the club.

Come spring 2013, she was flipping regularly into the chilly water, having shifted to a tippier kayak, the big yellow banana boat.  But all became worth it, as in her first race—in a sprint K2-- "it was really neat to be out there and pass others," she recalls. Paddling "has given me a way to be active and compete."

For several years now, she splits her training time between the sprint team and the women’s outrigger team, having been hooked by the prospect of racing in Hawaii and by the challenge of a “change” race where she was part of the mixed WCC OC-6 team that took first in the Catalina Crossing from Newport Beach, California to the Catalina Islands 26 miles offshore. 

She appreciates the differences between the two sports: in sprint boats, 500 meters often seem long, but in an outrigger, 26 miles was a blast. Not just the distance hooked her, but also changing in and out of the boats along the way. Changing "adds an extra element of excitement," she explains, especially because she's not a very good swimmer.  "I like the team effort that comes with the OC-6," Lisa explains. "It's mentally harder for me to push myself in a single boat than to push for the rest of the team."

In 2014, the club became much more than just a place to work out. The camaraderie helped her weather some personal challenges at that time. One her favorite activities became sitting on the dock, watching the sunset and sharing a drink with other WCCers. "The canoe club has become my family."

Right now, she's giving back to that family in spades. As entertainment committee chair since 2016, she's been organizing several events a year, including the annual banquet, food for the semi-annual meetings, crab feasts, and oyster roasts. She doesn't really cook--even for herself, "but I love parties," and has proven herself quite capable of organizing events, and acquiring food and drinks, even though each one takes approximately 20 hours of her time.  "The hardest part is picking dates" --WCCers have so many events, she says.  One of her favorites is the annual banquet, held in late November or early December. "It's a big celebration and you get to see what the club as a whole has accomplished."

She loves that each event draws a crowd--some loyal WCCers--particularly team members-- show up at every one, rain or shine.  But she would like to get a wider variety of members to come and share in the fun. She’s trying to better publicize activities  to encourage everyone in the club to participate. Maybe, she’ll even bring in a band one day. Bottom line, she says, “"I enjoy everything about this club!"

WCC Member Profile: Jay Gopal: From Mangroves to Marathons

by Liz Pennisi

Ten years ago, Jay Gopal’s idea of a long paddle was a few miles cruising through coastal mangrove forests, watching birds and gazing at turtles.  Now tens of miles are well within her reach. In May, this 41-year-old Indian native raced the General Clinton Canoe Regatta—a 70-mile downstream run on the Susquehanna River in New York.   “When I first came down to the club, I was not expecting canoeing to be a serious,” she recalls. 

WCC member Doug Brooks used to live in Jay’s building and had been taking her down to the WCC since 2012--she joined 4 years later. Meanwhile, in 2013 Doug joined Herb Howe for Herb’s 25th 70-mile Clinton, and in the ensuing several years convinced Jay to be part of the “pit crew,” furnishing riverside beverages and food to Doug and his partner as they paddled by. Jay and Doug decided to try to do the Clinton in 2014, when injuries forced Herb to bail. But she too got injured that year and because of travel and other distractions, it took her until 2018 to finally commit to trying it.  

As with everyone who tried to train this winter, the cold, windy weather greatly curtailed time on the water.  They did manage a run to Wilson Bridge and back in an aluminum canoe--a feat Doug said was equivalent to 30 miles because of the 14 mph wind. Before race day, their longest was the Little D race on the Monocacy.

 For the Clinton, they used a much lighter but still quite stable boat called the Susquehanna.  On race day,  they held back at the start to avoid flipping as Doug and Herb had done Doug’s first Clinton. Even though Doug and Jay did go over once mid-race,  their 6-year-old friendship held them in good stay. “We kept teasing each other and laughing all the time,” says Jay. And at the bridges, WCC members cheered them on, and that “was like a boost of energy.” (Doug dubbed her spurt of power “people speed.”) Still, “at one point I just wanted to get it over with.”  A blister was forming; her eyes were stinging from the flies because they forgot to apply insect repellent, and she’d lost her sunglasses. 

They finished in just under 11 hours—and were not last—she emphasizes.  “My back hurt and I got out and just rolled on the grass.” Two hours and two pain pills later, she had recovered. 

Her advice for other first-timers: Train and be in good shape. She did well because she hikes weekends and spends a lot of time on her bike, with a 185-mile ride down the C&O canal in the works. But “it’s more of a mental activity than a physical activity,” she stresses. “You need to focus on the finish and not think about anything else.”

Now she’s spending ever more time at and for the WCC, paddling and volunteering. She manages the club’s Instagram account, is setting up a WWC store, and will soon take over the newsletter. “Whenever there’s a volunteer opportunity, I try to help,” she says. 

When Jay first joined the club, she was very intimidated by the serious paddlers. But her past is one of “breaking walls,” having left her conservative family in 2000 for the United States and worked her way up through several jobs to now being a consultant.  So now she’s working toward becoming one of those serious paddlers and toward helping others who’d like to do the same. Toward that end, Jay’s at the club three or more times a week, often at the women’s outrigger practices and on Monday nights, at  the novice OC-6 program. Jay has even learned to steer to help out there.  She wants to buy a boat, though has yet to decide which kind. “I’m trying to see what would be my passion going forward.” As for doing the 70-miler again, she says, “Maybe next year.” 

Rain or shine, WCC loves the General Clinton Regatta


by Liz Pennisi

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.

WCC Member Profile: Frigid Potomac, A Cheater's Way to Wilderness

by Liz Pennisi

On Ed Rackley's first long-distance sea kayaking adventure, a five-year-old saved his life.  A relative novice, he'd gotten bored of paddling on Washington, D.C.'s rivers, so in November 2010 headed to the Outer Banks, by boat. "I didn't know how to roll, to deal with a tail wind or even surf my boat," he recalls. "But I felt you've got to do it to learn it." His naïveté caught up with him as he was trying to cross over to the intracoastal waterway right where the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers meet off Newport News, Virginia. There the water was a turbulent mixing bowl much worse than the Potomac and Anacostia junction on a windy Fourth of July afternoon.  


His flimsy spray skirt let water in, so soon his boat was filled with water and he couldn’t stay upright. It was a sunny day, but only 40 degrees, compounding his problem. Motorboaters would wave back at his urgent hand signals, not realizing he was doing more than saying hello. "I thought I was going to die in sight of all these other boats."  Finally, a little girl watching him from the bow of a pleasure boat told her dad she thought the kayaker was in trouble, and they picked him and his boat up. They covered him with all they had to combat his hyperthermia and deposited him safely at a marina. 


The next day he headed out for the final two weeks of the trip, but stayed out of the ocean and close to shore. He'd run marathons before, but this trip was "like running a marathon a day with just a can of beans at night" and he wasted away and was quite sick by the time he was done. Nonetheless, "it was a good trial by fire--you learned what you didn't know," he says now.


Trial by fire is his M.O. In 1991, Ed went into the Peace Corps in Zaire, where he took his first serious interest in paddling; dug out canoes are a key form of transportation in that country. Not wanting to come home to a desk job, he stayed in Africa and worked in Somalia and Sudan to help Doctors Without Borders set up shop there. Now he works as a consultant in disaster relief for that organization, the World Bank and other groups, focusing on conflict areas. But in between then and now, he spent two years practicing and teaching yoga at an ashram in India, and time in New York City getting a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation topic: the moral logic of humanitarian intervention.


In moving to Washington, D.C., he discovered sea kayaks were much more to his liking than dug out canoes. "I love the sensation of being flush with the water," Ed says. With the sprayskirt, the kayak "is an extension of your body."  He bought his first boat in 2008, took a few lessons on the Anacostia River to learn wet exits and bracing, but wanted to experience the boat as it was meant to be – deep in ocean waves.  That prompted his death-defying trip to North Carolina. 


After that journey, he sought mentoring and discovered sea kayaker "meet ups," where groups get together with expert boaters for symposia to learn survival skills and practice in rough water. Now he does both "park and play" and "source to sea" trips all over the Arctic--Alaska, Greenland, Iceland--and the East Coast, always cognizant of his skill level and trying to push himself just beyond those limits. His trips sometimes last a month, as when he and some buddies paddled from Seward to Homer Alaska, around the Kodiak Islands.


Once he and a group of other boaters kayaked 12 hours across the Irish Sea to Cornwall, England from islands 30 miles offshore. It was his first blind crossing, so the group had to calculate the course by figuring in the current and tides, and they stopped every hour for five minutes to eat and get their bearings. "It was very methodical, not like the Blitzkrieg, Tarzan approach, which is the way I did my first trip," says Ed. 

He paddles year-round, enjoying the solitude: "That's my cheating path to the wilderness--go when nobody in their right mind will go out." Just this February, he decided to hone his cold water prowess and paddled from Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac across the Chesapeake Bay, stopping overnight on a spit of sand that proved full of worn ceramic shards and sea glass. Later he discovered it was the remains of Holland Island, one of the most photographed disappearing islands in the bay. These were once inhabited but have since sunk. Where he spent the night with a roaring fire once housed 350 people fishing for menhaden. There, Victorian houses had slowly toppled into the sea for reasons that are unclear. "That was really cool to bump into," he says.  


Ed is also a bike racer, focusing now on cycle cross and training with Squadra Coppi (Fausto Coppi was a legendary Italian cyclist) more than 120 miles per week. In February he spent a week on a lung-busting trip up and down high-altitude passes in Colombia. 


But paddling still tops his list.  "Using paddling as a form of adventure has been a great thing in my life," he says. "I can just jump in my kayak and go and spend a night on disappearing islands. That matters a lot more to me than saying I paddled the north coast of Iceland." 


Solo trips are fun, but he prefers company, if nothing else, for safety. Alone, "you have to be on your game all the time," he says. And he's also coming to enjoy the companionship of being a Washington Canoe Club member. He used to rent space at what was Jack's Canoes, just downstream of the WCC, along with Tom Cooney. Then Tom joined the WCC and in 2012, convinced Ed to do likewise.  For the first four years, he didn't really know or interact with anyone at the club. Then someone got him to try outrigger last year, which he did. "The club opened up to me," he says. 
"The WCC culture and community has enriched my life." 


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!

The first time Ann Armstrong came down to the Washington Canoe Club and paddled, she couldn’t get over how incredibly wide the Potomac was. This native from Wisconsin was much more used to narrow, twisty streams. Now she plies that water daily in one of the most tippy, fickle boats—a high-kneel canoe. And although she has only been high-kneeling a little over a year, she’s already made the U.S. National team and raced in Europe. That may seem like an incredible rise to paddling excellence, but in some ways, it’s par for the course of this 23-year-old U.S. Navy computer CTN rate. Over the past 5 years, she has proved herself on many paddling fronts.

It all started in college. A lover of horses since childhood, Ann was on the Albion College (Michigan) equestrian team and life-guarding on the side.  Assuming life-guarding meant Ann could swim, a fellow horse-rider recruited her to fill out a relay team headed to the College Whitewater Nationals.   “She said all I had to do was stay in the boat,” Ann recalls.  She was hooked. She’d paddled canoes before on family outings, but racing was much more exciting.  At that race she met Keith Havens, cousin to WCC’s Dan Havens and nephew of WCC’s Olympian medal winner, Frank Havens. They became white-water racing partners—she paddled the bow of their 18’6 Oldtown Penobscot open boat--and were mixed open canoe champions at the 2014 whitewater nationals.   

Then she heard about the AuSable, a 120-mile marathon race in Michigan. Intrigued, she asked Keith to teach her how to paddle a marathon canoe. He instead referred her to the Bruce Barton, who lived near her college, and brother Greg, who had won four Olympic medals in sprint kayaking. The Barton family took her under their wing.  Mastering a marathon C1, however was quite challenging. After she had spent some chilly fall months flipping quite a few times on the Kalamazoo River, Bruce Barton (another Olympian) paddled behind her one day and called her huts. She paddled up and back down the river, often no wider than her 18-foot canoe. Afterward, his wife, Roxanne, (a sprint kayaker and successful marathon paddler) told her, “If I could paddle a C-1 there, I could paddle a C-1 anywhere.”  

With whitewater paddling, she needed to be able to read the river well but didn’t necessarily need to be in as good of shape—marathon paddling placed a higher emphasis on taking the right lines and required training—something she thrived on. She continued to improve, enough that Barton asked an AuSable veteran, Dwight Walker, to consider her as a partner.  It was a tough race, in which at some point in the middle of the night, Ann interpreted tree stumps as pit crews and was asking for a cheeseburger. But they came in 54th/84 overall and top 15 in the mixed division, with a time of 17 hours, 19 minutes and 18 seconds. With just over 200 hours training under her belt, “It’s one of the few races where I felt I had done everything to prepare to be there,” Ann recalls. That was in 2015.

Finished with college, she joined the Navy and was first stationed in Florida.. There on weekends she would foster a dog from the Pensacola Humane Society and go canoe-camping.  Because of her love of animals, she’d been a veterinary intern in high school, and college but knew she couldn’t have a pet of her own.

At the end of her Navy training, she picked orders to come to Fort Meade, Maryland, hoping to paddle at WCC.  She’d heard lots of stories about Uncle Frankie, cousin Dan and their sprint racing from Keith. She showed up at the WCC the morning after arriving in Maryland in the summer of 2016. She was honored to get to paddle in the WCC team boats, with the women's outrigger team, and in marathon boats, but ultimately was taken by the grace and power of the Ross brothers in their high-kneel sprint canoes, and the challenge it entailed.

At a crab feast, Jimmy Ross let her try one of the old Delta sprint canoes. She fell in immediately over and over and over again, but eventually she did manage a 10-meter wobbly half circle up past the outriggers.  “A sprint canoe is very honest,” says Ann. “It tells you when you are doing it right or wrong.”  From that point on, she paddled the high-kneel canoe every opportunity, practicing with the juniors, getting coaching from Ian and Gavin Ross, and eventually working out with Teresa Haught, another WCC former Olympian who helped Ann develop training plans, a work ethic, and set goals. Ann would gauge her success by how few times she would tip over during a practice and remembers how thrilled she was when she paddled up to mile rock and back dry. “My legs were shaking so much that I fell onto the dock,” she recalls.

Her first races were at the 2016 Middle States, and the following May, she tested her progress at the U.S. sprint national team trials. Her first two races she came in 3rd and 4th, too slow to earn a spot, but on her last 200-meter try, after a bad J-stroke, she put all caution aside and paddled as hard as she could, winning that race and a spot on the national team. “I won that race because I was strong, not because I had good technique,” says Ann–and lucky not to fall out of the boat. Over the summer, she earned respectable rankings at international races in Europe given her level of experience. At the U.S. Nationals she was thrilled to get to represent WCC, and contribute to earning points towards the SR Highpoint trophy named in honor of WCC.

Her season concluded in the Czech Republic, at the World Championships. After flipping over her C2 at the start of her first race, “I was really disappointed with myself,” Ann explained.  Still when Ann returned to Washington at the end of the summer, she was ready to learn more and wanted to focus on solid technique.” While slowly regaining her confidence in the boat again, and with the patient help of Gavin and Theresa, Ann began her fall training and looking towards next year. With that she set her goals for 2018, “I want to focus on proper paddling, good technique, and strength endurance.” Ann laughs explaining she hopes if given the opportunity, to do better in the C2, and qualify for finals. “I learned a lot about myself, and the sport this year, I am very grateful for all the help from everyone, and look forward to taking it with me next year.” For the rest of the fall, she paddled four to five days a week often with coaching from Dan and Theresa, and spent a lot of time in the gym. “I don’t want anyone to be stronger than me,” she says. “With sprint racing, the whole point is to make an Olympic team.”   And in 2018, if she meets those goals, she will give that a try in 2019.

Happy Holidays from WCC!

WCC Member Profile:

Leo Cacatian: Getting ever faster is his goal

By Liz Pennisi

For years, Leo Cacatian’s friends had been after him to try sprint kayaking.  But the only kayaks he knew about were clunky recreational boats, and they had no appeal for him. Then he finally saw a racing boat in action. “I saw these two guys going really fast on the water and I said ‘I wanted to try that.’” Five years  and countless spills into the Potomac River  later, he made a bid for the 2016 Olympics in 2016, making the B final for the 200 meter distance (15th out of 25 boats). All that year leading up to it, WCCers would daily see Leo and E.J. Haught pounding their way back and forth in front of the canoe club, honing their ability to sprint off the line and build in intensity for 200 and 500 meter sprints. “By hanging with E.J., I got faster,” he recalls.

He started out on a kayak erg with Darek Oborski, who showed him proper technique in 2011. He quickly got frustrated with the slowness of a Kirton,  a stable sprint boat and so bought a Nelo K1, spending the first year falling  in the water every time he got into this boat.  He didn’t feel he really made progress until he joined EJ in a long-shot bid for an Olympic spot.  Paddling daily, having a goal, and having a faster partner all played a role in his improvement, he says. He now races yearly in the Nationals and has been to the Canadian Masters Regattas twice. In between he enters local races such as the Bennett Creek 7-miler in Virginia Beach and the Broadkill river race in Milton, Delaware. That event’s 10 miles is his limit—“After 6 is when it’s painful for me,” he says.

So he was in awe Memorial Day Weekend when he attended his first General Clinton Regatta, a race WCC has been competing annually in since 2006. WCCers who generally focus on sprint, outrigger, marathon, SUP, kayak and even recreational paddling all join forces to make the Clinton trip each year, racing in memory of WCC paddler, Mitch Madruga, a US Marine Veteran, on Memorial Day weekend. Traveling up to Oneonta, NY with 52 WCCers forming eight teams for the annual 35-mile aluminum canoe relay, he got to see firsthand how popular marathon canoeing is.

Leo was on the Team Madruga relay team, and paddled first with Linda Aragon, a veteran Hawaii outrigger paddler who last year moved to Washington, D.C., and later, with Pam Boteler on the fourth leg.  The start was little chaotic—they didn’t hear the gun and so were slow getting off the line and as a result got stuck behind T-boned canoes. But he and Pam made up some of that lost time in their 4th leg shrinking the gap to the next fastest boat to 100 meters.  “It’s supposed to be fun, but many WCCers take it really seriously,” he jokes. But after his team came in 7th, Leo is eager to come back – and do even better. “I want to learn how to steer,” he adds.

His transition into paddling coincided with a career pivot. For nine years he’d been a graphic designer for Miller Lite, coming up with the posters and VIP passes for concerts and other events the beer company sponsored. After he was laid off in 2010, he set up shop in his living room, printing banners and posters for concerts and other big DC events. Another line of business is making wall paper prints. This wallpaper, Sweet Pea Wall Design, is a big improvement over wall paper that’s glued down, as the fabric is sticky on the backside but can be removed and repositioned, he explains.  And he’s lent his graphics expertise as well as his muscle to the canoe club, designing business cards and making big banners about the boathouse restoration effort.     

Water is in his roots. Leo was born in the Philippines and grew up in Virginia Beach. A track and field runner in there specializing in 100, 200 and 500-meter dashes, he could do the latter distance in under 60 seconds. So in his kayak, “I’m always motivated to try to go faster,” he says. “I think I should go as fast as I am running.”

When he’s not at the club, he’s still not far from water. His neighborhood borders Lake Barcroft in Virginia and, at his local beach he keeps five craft –two canoes, two John Boats and a paddleboard.  He works at home and watches his 5-year-old daughter, Camille, and his 3-year-old son, Cyrus, so heading to the canoe club is a much needed outing. “The challenging part is going to practice,” Leo admits because it means turning the kids over to his wife, Courtney, as soon as she walks in the door in the evening. “But I want to have my own free time.”

The graphic arts are in his roots as well, though he wasn’t always in touch with them.  His painting of an Egyptian mask still hangs in his elementary school in Parkway Elementary. However, he headed to college to study engineering and was very slowly making his way toward a degree when friend’s sister informed him that graphics design could be a career. “I did a 180, from math and physics to drawing and painting,” he recalls. In a couple of years, he graduated with skills in computer graphics—a new media--and while few thought he’d be able to get a job, Miller Lite took him on right away.

While there he started a soccer team, and one of the players eventually became his wife. And when kids came along, soccer’s night games were too hard to keep up. So he gave up the soccer team and reconfigured his life as a stay-at-home dad. “It’s the best job ever,” he says. He keeps up his business and is constantly thinking about new ways to make money from home.

Meanwhile, he’s no longer down at the club every day, but is very optimistic about the future of the masters sprint paddling group at WCC. He’s seen it decline to less than a half dozen paddlers and is pleased with the recent resurgence in interest. There’s a new coach, Itzel Flores, on Saturdays, and at least a dozen masters regularly practicing. He’s pushing for a sub two-minute 500 meter time. “I want to be the fastest masters paddler in the United States,” he says.

WCC Member Profile:
Paddling Powerhouse Fits Right in at Washington Canoe Club

By Liz Pennisi

When Kelsa Gabehart first showed up at the Washington Canoe Club last July,  she was immediately impressed by how nice the boathouse was.  (Just think what she would have thought if she'd seen it before it was closed down). She learned to paddle in Hawaii, where many clubs are no more than a spot on the beach--and the WCC had showers (outdoor ones) and indoor boat storage. Then when she went on the Potomac the first time, she was further surprised by how beautiful and green the landscape was.  And when she began to get to know club members, she was hooked. "Paddling and being on the water is my life," she explains. "It's like finding the same crazies as you."

This "crazy" had just come off two years on the SUP racing circuit, where at one point she ranked 14th in the United States. But her paddling days began in an outrigger canoe in 2003, with the Wakiki Beachboys on Oahu.  And paddling was a offshoot of competitive swimming. In all three sports, she had excelled, as she did in her first local race, the Frank Havens 10K, three months after she and her husband Nate moved here from Denver because his company, Boeing, promoted and transferred him.  

The Frank Havens Race is a fun, but for some WCCers a highly competitive end-of- season event named after two-time Olympic medalist, Frank Havens. Kelsa and Sean Havens beat all the local favorites save Havens' dad (and Frank's son) and Jim Ross, who high-kneeled across the line just seconds before them. Though he comes from a strong paddling pedigree, Sean had just come back to paddling after several years hiatus. Kelsa was in her first race in an Aluminum canoe. But when the gun went off, her focus was knife-edge sharp and her power astonishing. "I really love the zone--being out there in the moment and focused on one thing, the feel of the water," she says.

For more than a decade, that feel yearly earned her a spot, sometimes as stroke, annually in the Wahine O Ke Kai 6-man outrigger change race, a 42-mile run between Molokai and Oahu. 

Twice--in 2011 and 2014--her team has crossed the finished line as the first open women's crew. Her best doing that run in OC-1, was second in 2015. 

She attributes these successes to years of competitive swimming. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, she was 5th in the state for the high school mile distance and also raced the 400 meter individual medley and the 200 meter butterfly. "I learned fairly early on in swimming how grab the water and to pull through it and that was translated to paddling, she recalls.  At Brandeis University, a division 3 school, she broke records for the mile and other distances. "The longer and harder it was, the better I was at it," she recalls.

Being on a team meant a lot: at the end of one season, with a bribe from her male teammates, she let them shave her head, just as they do for themselves, just before a race. "I looked terrible," she recalls, "but I knew it would grow back and it was kind of fun."

After getting her masters degree in molecular biology, she headed for Hawaii, supposedly for a gap year, but stayed seven, becoming addicted to paddling the very first day she tried it and eventually earning a Ph.D., specializing in asthma and allergies, at the University of Hawaii and meeting and marrying Nate

Paddling with husband Nate

In 2009, they headed to Denver, where she had landed a postdoctoral fellowship at a research hospital specializing in airway diseases. There she started looking into the role of environmental factors in triggering asthma. She bought an old outrigger locally and trained in a lake, returning to Hawaii each year for the Molakai race. Nate was paddling SUP there, so to do something together, she joined him in 2012. Even with a beginning board she was winning local races, and she upped her game with better boards and won even more. When her fellowship was ending, Nate suggested she try paddling full-time.

The first year on the SUP circuit, she averaged about a race every other week, and the second year, "I realized I needed more training than racing time," so she would go to Hawaii for 6-week stretches (Nate, too would be on the road for more than 200 days that year for his work).  Her advice for SUP paddlers: Work on footwork, balance and sprints. That means going out in rough conditions, and also in conditions where falling in is not an issue, and balance on an edge until that's what happens. As for SUP paddlers who want to try outrigger. "The biggest thing you have to worry about is timing," she says.

Her favorite SUP races were in Abu Dhabi and Brazil. Different paddleboard makers supplied her boards, so she raced with a wide variety. She was eighth on the SUP Molokai to Oahu crossing in both 2014 and 2015. Even so, she found sponsorship hard to come by: "I wasn't good enough that people were coming to me and not outgoing enough [to attract them.]"

So her plan in coming East was to get a staff scientist job and put paddling on the back burner. "It's not really worked out that way" --yet, she says. But while she job hunts, and more recently house hunts, she's been planning a startup business with her two sisters--she's the middle one. They are setting up an online company, Test Flight Foods, that sells "Tasting Boxes,"  where monthly a box will contain a half dozen or more of a kind of food or spice with histories and recipes for comparing the different brands. That suits Kelsa's love of baking and cooking -- desserts are her specialty. "We cooked as kids," she says, and her dad was an excellent dessert maker. She uses many of his recipes. And her sisters can take care of sales and marketing.

Asked what it's like to be racing solo, she smiles and talks about how during a race, especially toward the end, it's easy to get upset when something goes awry.  In a team boat, it's easy to blame and forgive someone else, but alone, "the only one I can get  grumpy-pants toward is myself, and you have to be able to forgive yourself," she says. That takes a lot of mental discipline."

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

Written 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.