Rowing: the Unknown Sport of the South

Jun 30, 2014
Tagged with: Rowing: the Unknown Sport of the South


Although most people experience the sport of rowing on the Olympics, most of the Southern states of America do not know exactly what this competitive sport entails. Throughout my college career, I never expected to join a team, much less, a rowing team. I never thought I was athletic enough, I never thought I was competitive enough, and I never thought I would be able to find a sport that fit me. After playing violin for 12 years, I’m sure you can see why. However, upon my second year in college, I got recruited to be on the team. You would think that this is because the recruitment chair thought I was athletic, strong, had long legs, etc… but that certainly was not the case. Little did I know, I was being recruited for one of the most difficult and frustrating positions on a rowing team: the coxswain.

Rowing is a sport that requires great concentration. Throughout my time coxing, I found that the hardest part of rowing is not keeping four people in sync, but rather, keeping four people doing the same exact motions over and over again. This is the most difficult part about rowing. Each time a coxswain and his or her rowers get on the water, they never know what the weather is going to be like. If it is too windy, the water will be very rough. If it rained the day before, there might be too much fog to see 10 feet in front of you on the lake. So many things affect the setting of a boat. If the boat is not set because the water is rough, the rowers will have a difficult time being level on the water. This means that their technique will completely change. If their technique changes, none of them do the same exact thing each time they are on the water.

As everyone knows, it is almost impossible for a person to make the same motion over and over again. Almost every sport has this problem. Kickers on a football team do not always get the extra point; gymnasts cannot always land their stunt the same way. However difficult each sport may be, rowing requires a significant amount of concentration just like any other.

Each rower must place his or her hands in the exact same place on the oar. This is to ensure that they have similar movements when rowing. Each excess movement that is not necessary will make the boat rock back and forth. It will also increase motion that will disrupt the path of the boat. Oar handles must also be a certain height from the top of the boat. This is to ensure that the boat isn’t leaning too much toward one side and creating more excess unnecessary motion. Throughout rowing, rowers must always keep their oars moving in the same motion through the water. This means that with every stroke, their oars should enter the water and leave the water at the exact some time. They also have a hand that turns the oar so that the oar is perpendicular to the surface of the water when it is immersed and parallel to the surface of the water when it glides over the water. This hand motion, or feathering, must all occur at the same time. Rowers know that they turn their hands at the same time if they listen to the oarlock (the u-shaped piece that holds the oar). With every hand movement, the oarlock makes a clicking sound. If these clicking sounds are off, rowers know that they are not together.

Not only do rowers have to focus on their oars, but they also have focus on their seat position. With every excess motion in the torso comes excess motion for the boat. If they are leaning too much toward one side of the boat, the boat will become unset. In turn, rowers have to make sure that they sit up straight. They also have to make sure that they arrive at the catch (legs completely bent) and the finish (legs completely extended) all at the same time.

Lastly, the coxswain is one of the most important parts of the rowing team. Throughout a race or workout on the water, the coxswain yells through a headset to make sure that the rowers are doing what they are supposed to be doing. He or she yells for hand placement, reminds rowers to sit up straight, calls hard strokes, and makes sure that rowers are together. This position calls for a stern leader who is able to call different things, but also steer the boat as the rowers row.

Each person on a boat has an important role. The stroke seat sits at the front of the boat and keeps time. The bow seat is the rower that uses his or her oar to keep the boat set and on the water correctly. The second and third seat are the rowers that are used for power and communication between the stroke seat and the bow seat. These rowers make sure that the bow seat keeps correct time and follows correctly.

Throughout my time being a coxswain, I learned to lead, to speak rowing terms, and to be a small team that rowed incredible distances. As Cindy Bishop said on SI Crew, “It’s such a sensual sport… you are utilizing every sense you have to power your shell through the water. I can close my eyes and feel the center of my body and whether it’s off balance or not, whether I’m rushing the slide, I can hear the depth of my oars in the water and can gauge how relaxed I am.”

Author: Tatum Loo