A few weeks ago I came across a ‘Learn to Row Bootcamp’ discount voucher. The decision to sign up was super easy because:
- I LOVE vouchers, and discounts, and anything really that contains the words ‘free’, or ‘% off’.
- I have a small obsession with the fact that if I was a Pirate, I’d be an AWESOME pirate.
- Talk like a pirate day is coming up. (nuff said.)
- I like the rowing machine at the gym.
- I’ve got this image in my head of rowing being quite a relaxing jaunt in a pond, possibly involving picnics, and sunny days.
For the record? I was totally wrong about #5. I think I forgot the ‘bootcamp’ bit.
Anyway. When I first showed up, I was met by a bunch of skinny highschool boys in rowing uniforms (basically a rowing uniform seems to be tight and brief. In all respects.)
I was a little worried because no one said anything about a uniform, and I already have a hobby that involves spending way too much time with high-school boys. (WAIT. Does that sound wrong? Because it’s not meant in a weird pervy way. I’m just trying to say that my Taekwon Do club is mostly high-school boys, and once you’ve heard one fart joke, you’ve heard them all.)
Anyway. Weird pervy vibes aside, I was sort of hoping to interact with some adults this time around. So thankfully the kids turned out to be attached to a school rowing crew (Did anyone know we had those in NZ? Because I thought they were just in British boarding schools.)
So mostly we rowed on machines like at the gym trying to perfect our technique. The picture below is my sad attempt at drawing a rowing machine. You probably don’t need the picture, but I was thinking that some people might not have used or seen one before. If you’re in that group, then the picture below will in no way explain what they are. Probably you should just google ‘Rowing Machine’.
This bit of the course happens every time we go, and we’re supposed to be visualising a cameo creme biscuit, and a snatch and a grab and something to do with breaking your back. We’re supposed to visualise, and then actualize, a 5% lean – but no more. We’re also supposed to visualise oars touching the water, and visualise a prow to look over, and… actually there’s quite a lot of visualising here.
I don’t tend to visualise much though. Instead look at the water only a few metres away and visualise being warm.
More than anything else rowing seems to be about being freezing most of the time. And you don’t even need to visualise that because it’s 100% actualized most of the time.
Then we get the boats out. See how nice and short and simple that sentence is? The process is nothing like that because these boats are huge, and they have to be lifted out by eight people at a time, and during the process all of those eight people will end up standing in freezing cold water. Some of these people will have forgotten to remove their shoes, because this is all still new to us, and no one thought much past maneuvering the boat out without smashing it’s riggers and gates (AKA, The triangular bits that you attach oars to) against doors, and other boats.
When the ordeal of maneuvering an expensive and delicate – but heavy and unwieldy – machine out of the shed and into the water we’re ready to get in and row. Except that’s hard too, because the boat is long and skinny, and it’s centre of balance depends on the eight people inside – when they move the boat moves, when they breath, the boat moves, when they grab at oars the boat moves, when you grab at the side to find some safe leverage point, the boat moves. For the first half hour rowing is about sitting tense and deathly still on a lurching, listing, boat, fighting with all of your pre-loaded self-preservation instincts – and that’s WHILE the instructor stabilises the whole crew by holding on to the front of the boat.
I find this the hardest bit – surrendering to the boat is against almost everything you instinctively want to do. You’re given an oar, which I spent the first few hours of my rowing experience using to fight the water, and push and pull to boat more upright. The problem is that seven other people were doing the same thing. With seven people pushing and pulling and fighting balance is pretty hard to achieve.
The irony of it all is that once I decide to surrender and accept the possibility of capsizing into the lagoon, my hands naturally relax on the oar, and everything gets easier. The boat slowly levels out. When we’re no longer listing over in the water the instructor lets us go, and somehow we’re moving almost smoothly through the water taking turns at testing our strokes.
That’s the best bit. The bit where you’re sitting in a silent boat on Wellington’s waterfront, watching the art installations light up along the shore and feeling balanced while you drift on the water.