Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rowing takes over the skating blog.

So I cancelled my skating lesson this week.  I felt bad doing it, but it was the only time I could arrange another lesson: sculling.

Since taking Learn to Row I have been eager to get back on the water, but the rowing program hadn't been very ball about getting together their next step: a "starter package".  For this, there are three private lessons: sculling (2 oars) on the water, sweep rowing (1 oar) in the indoor tank (you can't do that in a boat by yourself), and erging (rowing machine).

I was thrilled to start with sculling, because it looks like the coolest part of rowing to me.  Because it had been over a month since I rowed we started in the tank just to remind me of basic technique.  The thing I am worst at is remembering to square my blade (point it down ready to go into the water, as opposed to feather which is when it lays flat over the water) before I do the "legs" part of the stroke.  Going slow this mistake isn't a big deal, going fast the safety video has assured us we will "catch a crab" which results in the rower being launched out of the boat to certain doom.  However, the coach (LynnAnn) then told me you don't actually have to do that in sculling, so WOO! I'm ready.

We started by using a tool they didn't have ready in learn to row- the dock box.  Now, I've since googled them, and it appears in most cases a dock box is a slide seat that sits on the dock and allows the rower to put the oar into the water and slide through the whole stroke, but remain in place, like the rowing tank.  This is not what our dock box is.  Our dock box is a slide seat, and it gets set onto the dock (it should get screwed in, but she forgot to!) Well then, LynnAnn detaches the last portion of our floating dock and I literally rowed the dock around the river.  The advantage to this is it is very wide and thus very stable.  Also, the coach can sit on the dock and talk to the rower, rather than drive along in a small boat (called a launch) and yell instructions at the rower who is going much faster than the tiny boat, since she doesn't want to cause much water movement by using the motor too much. 

So rowing the dock around I worked on the sculling stroke.  It turns out rowing is very much like figure skating in that whenever you finally reach "perfect" they change the standard on you and suddenly you can't do anything anymore.  The progression of this in sculling was to row body-arms, and then once you can do that to row legs-body-arms.  After doing that for awhile she then told me to start feathering my blades.  Well, this is when it gets to be like rubbing your belly and patting your head.  You have to keep the correct motion of legs body arms, keep the oar handles at the right height, keep your grip correct (I like to death grip, and my thumbs are never in the right place. I have a feeling "fix your grip" will be the "bend your knees" of sculling.) and then you also have to twist your wrists at the right time.  Still, I think I did a good job.  At one point she asked me if I had been erging, but when I said no didn't elaborate.  I'm not sure if I should take it as a "you are doing the parts of the stroke well, it's good you practiced" or a "man, you sure taught yourself some bad habits".  Since I think I did okay, I'm going to pretend it was the first.

After working on rowing the dock, and practicing steering (stupid winding river…) R.C. decided to have me switch to an actual boat.  I figured we would be using the boat we used in Learn to Row- I think it's name was Bob, and he was a big wide platform and super heavy. Not even the slightest was he tipsy, but no. I was introduced to Grace O'Malley.  She was very lightweight- I was shocked when we picked her up that it wasn't difficult for two people to carry at all (during learn to row I learned that boats are heavy and I am weak).  I got into her with no problem at all- thankfully I have decent balance.  I pushed off from the dock and was able to 'set' the boat so it was balanced.  I rowed one oar at a time. Things were looking good. And then I tried to row with two oars. Holey crap! If your oar handles are not exactly even, you are falling to the side. And I learned that if I fall out of a boat, it is going to be to the left.  Skating has taught me that balance checks can't be huge, so I think I managed to keep the boat balanced without overreacting to tips.  I eventually got to where I was able to row full, continuous strokes with the full motion.  I love the sound the blades make as they feather over the water (good rowers don't do that….but R.C. also said she doesn't let people feather until they are ready, so that gives me some step up).  I loved it.  As you can see by the overly excited LONG blog post, I've fallen in love with sculling.

The only problem is I can't row straight. Just like skating when you row without a coxswain you have to spend a lot of time looking backwards. The boats move fast (HUGE difference in feel from rowing the dock. Once I got over the initial fear, it was like flying. I can't imagine how fast competent rowers must go), so as R.C. said, they crash fast.  It was recommended I look over my shoulder every 2 strokes, and she said even she won't go more than 5.  So I think once I'm not the only person on the river it is unlikely I'll be able to row a single due to traffic patterns (really the river banks, rocks and the trees proved enough of a challenge. Why can't the river be straight?).  And as a beginner I'll probably row sweep a lot, because that puts you in a boat with experienced people. But man, I loved sculling.

Also I can barely walk today my legs are so sore.  I knew rowing was a full body workout, but so many people say "man, your arms are going to be so toned!".  Those people don't row.  This is a LEG workout more than anything.

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