Friday, October 28, 2011

Green at the Gills - My Rowing Adventure

August was a month of rowing in my little active life.

A good friend of mine emailed me one day and said (try to read with a subtle french accent in your head)
"Hey, check this out. They have classes for beginners. Wanna take one with me?"

What could I say in response to a question like that besides "OF COURSE"....
So we promptly signed up for the Learn to Row 1 class. Nevermind that they offer a Row for a Day class to try it out and see if you're even interested in learning more. We don't pay attention to such details. We jumped in with both feet, literally. 

Step 1: Sign up for the class online. Check.

Step 2: Print out and complete all the forms to consent to put your life in their hands and not blame them if they fail you. Check.

Step 3: Take a float test. I found a local community swimming pool and got to take the test for free. Some pools will charge you a couple bucks but mine was free. What is a float test you ask? Easy. Jump into a swimming pool with all your clothes on and float without the aid of anything or anyone for 10 mins. If you drown or cling to the wall, you fail. Well, there is one more step to determine pass or fail. At 9mins 30sec the guard will throw you a life vest and you have to put it on and get it zipped up while still floating by the 10min mark. If you do that (which is super easy), then you pass. Hint: Don't wear jeans, sweat pants, or cargo pants or you might just sink. Check.

Learn to Row 1 was a month long commitment. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6:30 to 8:30 pm for the month August, our lives were dedicated to the Sammamish Rowing Association. My friend (lets call her C) and I were all ready, having signed our lives away, emptied our wallets, and risked a public drowning to get to our first class and row our hearts out. C was desperate to build her back muscles while I just wanted the cardio workout. Plus we were both excited thinking it was going to be fun and maybe even peaceful on the water.
Lake Sammamish, WA

How wrong we were.

The first class consisted of a tour of the boat house, role call, and an educational safety video. Yawn. I have a faint memory of singing Kumbaya but that might have been from the dream I had that night. I know they have rules and regulations and laws and stuff that need to be followed for newbies but disappointment is disappointing.

Perhaps we get to row during the 2nd class? Nope. Third for sure? Nope. We were allowed on the water during the 4th class. The earlier classes were all about learning proper rowing technique and the intricacies of coxswaining and the language of rowing, etc. I'm not even going to go into all that. If you want to know, sign up for a class and enjoy.

The first few times we were on the water, we barely made it to the end of the slough before it was time to turn around and return to the dock. Why? Several reasons.
  1. We were in the heaviest boat known to man
  2. There were 8 people in the boat (plus the coxswain) who all needed turns to row by themselves
  3. We were all brand-spankin-new to rowing
  4. For some mysterious people (much like most children) don't  know how to follow simple instructions 
Octuple (8 people plus the coxswain)
Sammamish Slough
Notice the lily pads on either side? We spent some quality time in those lily pads.
Eventually the coaches got most of us going pretty well and we made it to the open lake and were able to paddle around a bit before we had to return to the dock. They even got us out in smaller boats so we each got a lot more active rowing time. And as if that isn't cool enough by itself, we eventually got all 4 or 8 persons (depending on which boat we were in) rowing at the same time. Wowy!

What's the big deal?

Boats are most stable with all oars flat on the water (like you see in the picture above). As each person starts adding in (meaning they begin rowing as a group one at a time), the boat becomes increasingly unstable unless everyone is perfectly in sync. A team of newbies who don't know how to follow simple instructions are most definitely not going to be perfectly in sync. Right? Right! So it's very cool that we were able to get it going even if for just a stroke or two.

4 weeks, 2 classes per week, 8 classes total. Overall impressions? Hated it. It wasn't all bad though. There were definite highs and even more definite lows.
  • It was summertime on the beautiful Lake Sammamish
  • We got quite a bit of inactive time in the boat so I did get to experience a tiny bit of that peace and take in my surroundings like I had hoped for
  • I got to try something that I had always wanted to try
  • I got to spend time building a wonderful friendship with C
  • Our coaches were amazing in every way
  • I learned something new which is never a bad thing
  • I got the opportunity to practice my skills in patience over and over and over again
  • C found a new hobby that she loves and I got to be there with her as she discovered it

  • There was nearly no cardio activity included in the Learn to Row 1 class other than carrying the ridiculously heavy boat to the water and taking back out of the water again
  • My patience was tried over and over and over again so my hopes of peace were shattered more times than not
  • People can't follow simple instructions. What do you think "oars flat on the water" actually  means? Put your F$#!ing oars FLAT ON THE WATER
  • It requires interaction with other humans and that usually doesn't work out so well for me (see the second and third bullets for more info)
  • I didn't get to row nearly as much as I had hoped
  • Blisters and scars from sculling (I still have scars on the top of my hand), ouch
  • By the end of the session, I felt like I let C down because.......
  • Sea sickness sucks and
  • I didn't enjoy my experience nearly as much as everyone else did
So here's the story with the sea sickness. I am extremely sensitive to motion sickness. If I even turn my head too fast I might get sick. I've tried the ice behind the ears, the wrist bands, and the motion sickness pills. All have failed me at different times but I find that Dramamine works most of the time. MOST of the time. It failed me in a big way during a gorgeous helicopter ride over Molokai but that's a long story for another day or maybe never.

So anyway, of course I took the pills every day before class and expected to be fine. All was well, at first. That is until: 1) I was put in a smaller boat with only 3 other people and 2) We got out to the open lake on a choppy day rowing all 8 together. The smaller boat meant quite a bit more side to side rocking motion which was not good for me. The choppy day on the open lake was also the day that I was in the octuple boat and the coaches got all 8 of us rowing together which meant rocking side to side to the Nth degree in addition to being splashed in the face by the rowing dude in the seat in front of me because he was all over the damn place. Everyone was out of sync and doing their own thing and I was turning greener and greener with each clumsy stroke.

I don't think anyone wanted to have to watch my vomit float away because before it ever got to that point, the coaches asked if I was ready to get off the boat and go back to the boathouse. My answer was silent but obvious. So, they pulled the launch (coach's small motor boat) up to the oct and I climbed up and out and found myself on steady ground in just a few minutes. That was the last day of class so I missed seeing it through to the very end. I tried, I really did, but like I said before... disappointment is disappointing. I hate not being able to do things even though I believe I can and should be able to do anything I want.

Did I mention that I caught a crab too? I caught a crab. Luckily it wasn't a bad one. It didn't throw me overboard but it did get me in the gut good which was not comfortable.

Sculling (2 oars per person)

Sweeping (1 oar per person)

Although it may not seem like it, I really am glad I gave rowing a real try. In all honesty, I'm a little jealous of all the people who love it because it is one of those things that you either hold dear to your heart or you don't. For many, rowing is what they think about, talk about, and dream about all day, every day. For others, it's just not their thing. I fit into the latter category but I couldn't be happier for C that she found herself in the former.

If you find yourself interested in giving it a try, I highly recommend you look for a rowing association in your area and contact them for any classes they may offer. Also, C tells me that it gets much better in the next class and even better once you get onto a novice team and you start rowing with more people who know what they're doing. I'm also told that it is a great workout once you graduate to single and double person boats which typically happens in the Learn to Row 2 classes.

If you're lucky and find yourself in the great northwest where we have beautiful bodies of water all around us, I highly recommend the Sammamish Rowing Association. Not only were our coaches amazing, helpful, patient, and funny but every other member we met coming and going from the boathouse was equally as pleasant.


1 comment:

  1. OMG great post! I love kayaking and always wanted to try rowing (or paddling). I don't think we have any rowing associations here but in Hawaii we have a ton of canoe paddling groups... one of the best workouts according to one of my friends so thanks for the inspiration to give it a try!


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