First Time in A Racing Shell, albeit with Training Wheels

Last night I finally had my first stint in a racing shell taking out a double with my teammate/mentor/coach Sam Stitt. Sam sculled in the 2008 Olympics in the double, is the unofficial team captain, and arguably possesses the most efficient sculling technique in the U.S. He also happens to be quite a character (perhaps I’ll get him on the vlog soon). For those of you wondering, if you want rowing lessons from Sam, you probably won’t be able to afford his “priceless” pricetag (I only got in because I beat him on my best day at a 2K test during his “retirement year”).

Conditions were fairly suboptimal on the Potomac last night with the wind howling, a bit of swirliness and cross-currents and an armada of high school boats out on the water. This said, Sam rowed us over to a narrow branch of the Potomac that wraps around Theodore Roosevelt Island where we had flatter water, no traffic, and all evening for me to have at it.

Being new to rowing, I’m very unfamiliar with rowing jargon. Sam kept talking about a “set” boat, and I had no idea what he meant. As I come to find out, it is when one of the scullers holds his/her oars out feathered on the water to balance the boat. Once the boat is set, the remaining oarsmen can have a dance party or a highly stable environment (the boat is typically unstable) similar to what is created by training wheels on a bicycle. From there, Sam had me drill for close to an hour with a very narrow focus on the movement with my hands.

Rowing on the erg, your hands don’t do much other than hook the handle. However, in the boat, my hands feel like they are in a constant battle with one another which is a consistent reminder to me to cut my already stubby fingernails. The reality is your hands shouldn’t be in a battle with each other and you just need to channel your muscle memory to have a smooth, fluid movement enabling the oars to move efficiently in & out of the water. That is what we worked on for an hour. Seems boring, at least that is what Sam told me, but these boring things are revelations for me. Your hands coming in/out of the stroke use the LIFO inventory method (meaning the last hand draw-in is the first hand to shove-out). I had never thought about this before because my hands have mostly lived in chaos and war thus far in the dozen or so times I’ve gone out on the water. So, Sam gave my hands a lesson in civilization and he echoed the recurrent theme in all of my instructors thus far, smooth is fast. It was a great opportunity to train proper muscle memory, and I’m sure I could use another 1000+ hours of this so I’ll have to drill this on my own.

Still working on the vlog. I’ll get it soon.