Indulge Your Collegiate Rowing Fantasies

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If you’ve ever dreamed about row­ing down the Charles Riv­er in Boston, or won­dered what it would’ve been like to crew the Thames in Lon­don — it’s not too late for you. I learned to row for the first time in my late 30s and I have to say, it is as cool as it looks.

Before I tried it, I didn’t think I was ath­let­ic enough, or ded­i­cat­ed enough. I had sev­er­al friends on the row­ing team in col­lege – but they had to get up at some­thing like 5:00 a.m. to prac­tice out on the frigid cold lake waters. They couldn’t stay out late, and they had to put in crazy hours work­ing on some­thing called “the erg.”

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Over the years I accu­mu­lat­ed some riv­er expe­ri­ence, dab­bling in white water raft­ing, kayak­ing and canoe­ing. One sum­mer, a friend told me her hus­band ran the local recre­ation­al row­ing club in town; they prac­ticed out of the uni­ver­si­ty boathouse. You didn’t have to get up at 5 am, you could hit the water at the end of the day, and enjoy a relax­ing out­ing up the riv­er and back. No one expect­ed you to row like the Win­kle­vi Har­vard broth­ers of “Social Net­work” fame; peo­ple were pret­ty low key.

These were the tra­di­tion­al crew sweep-oar boats where the oar fits into the rig­ger on the boat. You put two hands on one wood­en oar, and put your feet into stir­rups. You start by lean­ing for­ward with the oar pushed as far back as pos­si­ble so that when you plant it in the water and pull, your seat glides back with you; you are fac­ing oppo­site the direc­tion the boat is mov­ing. In this sport, you’re active­ly using your legs, and your arms.

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It’s easy to get lulled by the rhythm of match­ing the strokes of the row­ers in front of you. For me, being out on the water pro­vides the same calm­ing ben­e­fits as med­i­ta­tion or chant­i­ng might pro­vide for oth­ers. The sound of the wood­en oars pulling against the rig­ger, the seats creak­ing back, the boat lurch­ing along – it is as cool as it looks.