Shortly after Spring break this year, Dudley crews started rowing and preparing for some fast intramural races in early May. Since I had rowed with East Bay Rowing Club for a summer before, I was placed in Women’s A boat — I was surprised but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from more experienced rowers.
We rowed out of Weld boathouse, which happens to be the closet boathouse to my home, located on JFK and Memorial on the bank of Charles River, a 7 minute bike ride away. Compared to the 40 minute bike ride to get from Central Berkeley to Jack London Aquatic Center to row with East Bay, this was luxury that I never imagined I’d have. But the season just kept on giving, we consistently had temperature hovering right above freezing, even a few warm days with awesome sunshine, and very calm water for the most of the practices.
Before the season started, my rowing experience consisted mostly of technique work with the Novice team at East Bay. We typically rowed by 6’s, and every now and then tried all 8. The very first Dudley practice made it clear to me that I must learn fast and row a different game. We dived right into race prep, besides some essential technique corrections, the focus was on rowing high rates, practicing race starts and stroke sequences, and building up the cardio needed to go to town during the race.
Observing our stroke pair, Eliza and Kaitlyn, was just phenomenal education. They are both experienced varsity rowers, and had consistent and precise strokes. Our stroke Eliza made rowing 36-38 strokes per minute feel long, as if we even had time to relax and recover before the next stroke. And her building strokes are also consistent, predictable, and effective, making it easy for the rest of the boat to calibrate and follow. Sitting at the 6th seat, i.e. the 3rd front the stern (bow is at the front of a boat, stern is the back, but we sit facing away from the direction of travel), I got to take in many of details about their technique, for example, the quickness in extending arms and pivoting body forward in recovery, and the twist in the body to keep shoulder parallel to the oars and gain a few extra inch in the reach of the oars.
And perhaps the most impactful for me, is the technique for featuring. I had a bad habit of twisting the oars hard with my wrist and scooping water forward when the oar is still in the water. 5 minutes into a practice I would have incredibly sore forearm and maybe some other pain that I just had to clench my teeth and deal with. Switching to squeezing the lat muscle and flicking the wrist gingerly at the end of a stroke took the small forearm muscle off the heavy lifting duty. After getting a hang of it, featuring the oars doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as before.
Racing was loads of fun, the intensity was intoxicating. It was over way too soon, since the races were only until the beginning of reading week, we only had Heats and a final. I wish there were more! At the end, we were in sync as a boat, at times I felt we were taking breaths as one. The sound of oars turning and clicking into position in synchrony in the oarlocks was powerful and mesmerizing.