Kolton Goochey will be competing with a maple leaf next month.
The Laoyam Eagles steerperson was recently named to the Canadian U18 team for the 2017 World Nations Dragon Boat Championships in Divonne-les-Bains, France.
"It's truly rewarding that I was chosen out of everyone in Canada to be the steerperson of the team. I control the whole boat and it's kind of scary because if I mess up, then the whole boat messes up," he said. "It's a lot of pressure."
After attending the Vancouver-based tryouts, Goochey felt confident he'd shown his best and had a strong shot at being named to the team.
"It was actually not that difficult. All I needed to do was come to some of the tryouts," he said, noting he auditioned in both the 10- and 20-person boats. "It was basically showing them what I can do."
Goochey credited Laoyam Eagles coach Hugh Fisher and commodore Karen Tomlinson, as well as older sisters Dayna and Shelby.
"I used to be a paddler, but my sister was a coach and I was helping her. I asked her 'Mind if I learn how to steer?'" he recalled. "I tried it out and I had a thing for it. I kept on steering because I liked it a little better."
Fisher said Goochey is an outstanding steerperson, noting One Mile Lake provides a unique training ground. Being a small site, those steering get more than their share of work in curving around the lake's contours. While many races just require keeping the boat straight, Fisher said there are times where a quality hand at the helm is an absolute necessity.
"There are some events that require steering around buoys and avoiding other crews," he said. "He's just superb."
Goochey said he's excited to represent the country out on the water while also connecting with a number of new friends.
"Everybody's contributing to help make the fastest boat possible when you're racing for Team Canada," he said.
While many Eagles recently attended the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Carnival, Goochey had to choose one or the other. He went with the opportunity to suit up for his country.
"France meant a little more to me because I was representing all of Canada," he said. "I wish I could have gone to Hong Kong, too."
Another Eagle, Quinn Phare, will also travel this summer, representing B.C. at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Eagles acquitted themselves well, qualifying for a number of finals even though many competitors were challenging older teams.
Competing in small boats, both the mixed and women's teams placed sixth, while in standard boats, the women's squad again took sixth.
Fisher noted attending the Hong Kong event meant some subsidies would be available for the team, helping to defray some of the costs. The team was up for a challenge against some of the best in the world.
"(It would) be a struggle to win anything but it would be a really good training ground for the kids to go through," he said. "A lot of them bought into that."
All told, 16 kids attended, but to fill out the boats in the men's and women's categories, the Eagles joined forces with the Houston Heat out of the U.S.
"We were paddling at about the same level with one of the U.S.' top mixed teams," Fisher said.
On the third and final day, the top 16 local teams and top 16 international teams squared off with many of the heats coming with just a few minutes' rest between them.
"That day was an absolutely hard, hard, hard, hard slog," Fisher said, comparing it to a Tough Mudder marathon. "Everything catches up by that time — the food and the heat."
Fisher noted in the final women's race, where they took seventh, one of the women injured her shoulder on the first stroke, hampering the boat.
"That, I'm sure, affected their outcome," Fisher said.
The Eagles did go home as champions in one event, the Red Bull Dragon Roar, a skills competition as opposed to a full-on race.
"Our kids won that straight outright. They're quite skilful in the boat," he said.
One of the main differences, he said, was racing in a section of Victoria Harbour, in many ways worlds apart from the peaceful serenity of One Mile Lake.
"It's the main industrial harbour of Hong Kong with effluent from the city being pumped straight into it with ships going by," he said. "They ring the event with barges to dampen out the waves, but it's still a big slog. You're paddling in wavy conditions."
Besides the conditions, Fisher noted paddlers got to compete in front of an audience that numbered in the six digits, which was quite an experience for some of the young Pembertonians.