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Paddle Hard, Paddle Fast: Reflections on Kayak Racing

An Interview with Sea Kayak Guides and Racers Erin Quigley and Joe Guglielmetti

This winter we’re sharing a series of conversations with Portland Paddle guides, each one focused on a specific topic related to paddling the Maine coast. Today we’re talking with sea kayaking guides Joe Gugliemetti and Erin Quigley to learn about their experiences kayak racing and get some tips for those who want to try it out. Comments have been edited for length and clarity.


Kayakers and paddleboarders line up on the water for the start of a race

The start line one evening at the weekly East End Race Series

Q: What tips would you give someone who wants to start training to be a faster paddler?

Joe: Core, core, core! Pushups, pullups, and jump squats cover all your major movement patterns and muscle groups. Torso rotations with weights are great. And for the truly masochistic: burpees.


Erin: First, just spend a lot of time in your boat. Get really comfortable in there!  Make changes to help your body feel good! Then, start tracking your speed and pushing yourself to go just a little faster each time you’re out. Find paddling buddies who are just a little faster than you, and go out with them frequently. 

Focus on technique, especially using your core efficiently.  Experiment with what to eat and drink, and when, to make you feel your best. (For me, it’s schwarma fries about 15-20 minutes before paddling. :-p) Find a few races at distances you enjoy paddling, then train for them. Now you’re ready to race. Yay!

Q: Why is paddling fast fun for you?

Joe: Because there is a clear winner (usually). And the winner is YOU.

Erin:  I love feeling connected to my boat and to the water – when every piece is working together smoothly and gracefully – when I find my rhythm or flow.  And I love the feeling of surprising myself with what my body can do.  Often races feel pretty bad at first, but when I push past that wall and settle in, it’s amazing how good I can feel.

Two people in a tandem kayak as waves from river rapids splash around them

Erin and Zack Anchors paddle a tandem sea kayak through the rapids of the Kenduskeag river race

Q: Why should someone who hasn’t done it before try out racing? 

Erin: Because challenging yourself is so much fun!  I never really train or prepare as much as I should, but I love the feeling of answering the question: “what am I capable of on this day, in this moment, under these conditions?”

Q: What would you say to someone who is interested in joining a race but feels intimidated, or thinks they are too something (young, old, slow, busy, whatever)? 

Erin: Please, please, please give it a try!   It doesn’t matter how fast you are, or whether you’re “ready” – you’ll never be totally ready.  Make sure you’ve set yourself up for success by considering basic fitness level, safety equipment, etc, and then just go have fun.  It’s not about how you look to everyone else, or how you perform, but how you feel, the joy of finding out what you’re capable of, and the possibility of surprising yourself with your own strength.  

It’s like what I tell my kids sometimes:  “Bravery isn’t being unafraid – it’s being afraid and doing it anyway.” 

Q: Erin, any specific advice you would give to female identifying paddlers on this topic? 

Erin: See the above! Often I find that women need more encouragement to just get out there, even if they don’t feel “ready.”  Remember, you’ll never be ready!  It doesn’t matter how fast you are or whether you define yourself as a “racer.”  The community of women I’ve met through paddling has been amazingly special and supportive – come join us and be a part of it, we can’t wait to meet you.  🙂

A person sitting on the beach on their kayak at the startline for a race

Joe at the 2019 Paddle for the Prom

Q: What was your first kayak race? 

Erin: My first kayak race was the 2015 Blackburn Challenge, a 20-ish mile circumnavigation of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  I liked that the race was a test of endurance and seamanship as much as speed – that’s what drew me in.

Joe: The 2019 Paddle for the Prom, a fundraiser for the Friends of the Eastern Promenade Park. 10 miles starting at East End Beach. I came in first overall!

Q: Any other advice?

Joe: Don’t worry about your age. I lose races to really old people often… and I’m fast!


Joe has competed in many regional races, including the Kenduskeag River race, the Blackburn Challenge, the Stone Dam Classic, and Portland Paddle’s weekly race series. He holds the record for the fastest paddle of the Maine coast, a feat he accomplished in just over four days! 

Erin, Portland Paddle co-founder, currently serves as Development Manager at SailMaine, Portland’s community sailing center. She was the season champion of the Women’s K1 category in the 2023 East End Race series, and has placed in the Blackburn Challenge and the Kenduskeag River race.