Rowing Information

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dotRowing is a sport that used to be a really hard job! Before the invention of outboard motors and steamships, there were rowers. Rowers were used to move huge boats carrying tons of cargo quickly through the water.

Rowing clubs often have open houses where you can talk to other members -- and maybe even try rowing for free!
Courtesy of: Rolando Rosler

dotNow, thanks to the wonders of technology, the need for a rower is gone. The urge to row, however, is not. Centuries of rowing for necessity have left us with a great sport.

dotRowing is the act of propelling a boat through the water with oars. The boats rowers use are called shells. They are thin, lightweight crafts designed to make rowing as easy as possible.

"In order to harness the strong muscles in our legs, the seats slide back and forth on a track. To get the maximum leverage from the long oars, rowers face the back of the boat. They drive their legs down towards the bow, move the oar to the back, and propel the boats forward," says David Garcia, a rower in California.

Regattas involve side-by-side races that vary from 500 metres to 2,000 metres in length. Typically, two boats are involved, with the winner progressing to the next round and the loser exiting the competition.

"Rowing in teams can be very challenging because every person must be in exact unison [rowing at the same time] with the other. Good technique and concentration are essential," says Karleen Harris.

dotThe whole body is used in rowing. Legs, backs and arms are used to propel the boat forward. While the boat is moving, the rower has to prepare for another stroke.

dotProbably the most difficult part of rowing is the technique. Rowing requires careful body positioning. At first it's very uncomfortable and difficult to keep the right position.

dotThere are two main types of rowing -- sweep rowing and sculling:

  • In sweep rowing, each rower controls one oar and paddles on one side of the boat. Sweep boats have between two and eight rowers powering them. Sometimes these rowing teams also include a coxswain, the person who steers the boat by controlling a rudder and keeps the rowers in unison by giving them commands.
  • In sculling, each rower uses two oars. There can be one to four scullers and the boats rarely have a coxswain.

dotBelieve it or not, not all rowing takes place on a lake, ocean or river. Many cities have indoor rowing clubs where rowers practice and compete in large pools.

dotEver used a rowing machine? Then you have an idea of what rowing is all about. Rowing machines are stationary machines that work on pressure to measure distance. The principles and the technique are the same -- you row as hard as you can to cover a long distance in a short amount of time.

dotRowing can be a very physically demanding sport, but experienced rowers say it's up to the individual to decide just how hard they want to push themselves.

"Rowing can be as much of a workout as you want it to be. If you compete on a team then it will kick your butt and put you into the best shape that you can possibly be in. But there is room in rowing for those who just like to row," says Harris.

dotFor people who want to row competitively, however, the drive for a personal best is essential. Experienced rowers say this means being willing to give 100 per cent all the time.

"Not everybody has the dedication necessary for this sport. To learn how to row requires going to every practice, with 5 a.m. wake-ups several times a week. You have to try [to push] every workout to its fullest and always be willing to push yourself as hard as you can," says Garcia.

dotRowing clubs at schools or colleges supply rowing shells and oars for their members. Student rowing organizations are generally free to join, and the only thing you'll need to bring with you is some basic athletic clothing.

If you want to purchase your own shell, you're looking at a much bigger investment. The standard cost for a single sculler is between $1,200 and $1,800.

dotThe American Rowing Association estimates there are close to one million rowers in North America.

dotRowing is enjoying increasing popularity in North America these days. Its high profile in the Olympics has helped college-level teams. As a result, more paid rowing coaching positions are available to people with a strong rowing background. People who enjoy rowing may also be well suited to teach physical education or to a career managing rowing clubs.

Getting Started

dotOne of the best reasons to start rowing is because it's a sport you can do all your life. "Anyone can row, and I wish more people would," says rower, Peter Cipolline.

"Anyone can do this sport. Ernestine Bayer, the matriarch of women's rowing in the United States, founded the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club in the 1930s," says Karleen Harris. Bayer was still rowing in her 80s!

dotExperts say rowing is an easy sport to learn, but a difficult sport to master. Rowing techniques can be quite difficult, and may seem to get harder as you continue to practice. Experienced rowers believe this difficulty is a sign of improvement, and encourage new rowers not to give up when they hit this point.

"The most important advice for someone starting out is to stick with the sport and not get frustrated. No matter how poor the technique is or how awkward the body feels, it is important to stick with it and everything will come together," says David Garcia.

dotRegardless of whether you want to row competitively, or just for fun, you're going to need some training. Experts say rowing clubs are the best way to learn the basics of rowing. They also say that, thanks to the growing popularity of rowing, these clubs are springing up everywhere.

"Virtually all clubs offer novice programs, where people come in once or twice per week to learn from an accomplished rower or coach. After a certain qualification period, people are allowed to row on their own, or may opt to join with a group of like-minded rowers and form a crew," says Cipolline.

dotMany clubs rival more expensive fitness clubs in their array of exercise equipment, rowing machines, weights and training gear. Experienced rowers suggest calling rowing groups for more information.


United States Rowing Association

Austin Rowing Club


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