Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Row, row, row your boat

Straight into a barge...

See, the Rowing People (for rowing is a way of life over here, complete with its own language and clothing), they tempt you into this by telling you that rowing is fun, that summer rowing is particularly fun because you really just use the rowing as a pretense to reach nicer pubs on the outskirts of town, where you then spend most of your practice time posing by the boat and telling cute passersby that yes, yes you do row.

The Rowing People are fucking liars.

Contrary to all assumptions, rowing is insanely complicated. You have to lean back from the hips with your arms out in front of you, then move your arms forward and down, roll forward (back straight!) from the hips, slide slowly forward until your knees are fully bent, then shoot backwards while you keep your arms and your back straight until you finally have to bend the elbows and pull the blade to chest height.

Got all that? Good. Now do it about three times faster on a narrow channel that masquerades as a fully navigable "river," complete with psycho boat people from Serious Boat Clubs and full to the brim with barges, sculls, the occasional river kayak and the rare inebriated cyclist who tumbled off the bank into the water. Although you may be tempted to brain all drunken obstacles with the flat of your blade, do not do this, as it may wreck the blade. Did I mention you also have to keep precisely to the rhythm of the person in front of you? Well, you do. This is always fun when the person in front of you has been rowing for years and decides to set a just-shy-of-Olympic-record pace that leaves you flailing hopelessly, snagging duckweed and half-swamping the boat as your blade gets caught beneath the surface. Then, she has the audacity to glare at you when your handle smacks her squarely below the shoulder blade because you're out of synche...At this point, I'm thinking the only way to slow her down is to break a rib or two, so obviously I'm just not smacking hard enough.

Serious Boat Clubs are by far the worst. City bumps are this weekend, we think, as there were many Serious Boat Crews out on the river this evening. Some of them are polite enough to slow down until we novices can steer for the nearest bank to let them pass. Others roar right up behind you, apparently intent on honing their bumping skills by crushing our fiberglass boat. They then become highly annoyed when you yell at them...but you can't really do anything, as the boats are apparently so fragile that sneezing on them will cause permanent damage. Seriously, after we heft this 8-man boat out of the water (and it is surprisingly heavy for frigging fiberglass), we have to stand there grunting with the boat numbing our palms as the cox wipes it down because IT CAN'T STAY WET.

It is a BOAT. It is supposed to go in WATER. Yet, water hurts the boat.

You will also enjoy the Weekend Boaters. You know, those fine, perpetually sloshed lads and potbellied middle-aged men who loll on seats at the riverside pubs and make snide comments about your rowing abilities. "Oh, bad form," they'll tut before returning to their pint glass. You can almost hear them: "When I rowed back in university..." You want bad form? Yourself in a speedo, darling.

So, at the end of the day, you finish with numb forearms, screaming glutes, seeping blisters below your fingers, and a growing distaste for the Rowing People...and yet...and sign up for the next outing and promise you'll learn how to hold the blade square by next time.

But you're definitely clotheslining the next Serious Boat Crew.


Katy said...

I recently up and moved to Pittsburgh, where we have three rivers and three million serious sculling enthusiasts. I decided to take lessons and learn to join them and also hate holding the damn boat while they wipe pollution and scuzz off the bottom. Why can't we put it down first and then wipe??

Meg said...

I think it has something to do with keeping up the image of proper boating, which means you have to be truly miserable in order to qualify as a real rower. Somehow, it seems very British to me.