Rowing is a sport. The verb ‘row’ rhymes with ‘low’. ‘Row’ as a sporting verb does not rhyme with ‘now’.
People who row get into a rowing boat. The people who row are called rowers. There is one person in the boat called the coxswain (pronounced ‘KOK-sun’). The coxswain is often called the ‘cox’ for short. The cox steers the boat. He or she sits at the back and is facing the direction of travel. The rowers are facing away from the direction they are going in. A rower is sometimes called an ‘oarsman’ or ‘oarswoman’ because he or she uses an oar to row. He or she pulls the oar through the water and out to make the boat move.
A rowing boat is usually a IV (pronounced ‘four’) or an VIII (pronounced ‘eight’). This is because there are either four rowers or eight rowers.
In the case of an VIII there are four rowers with their oars on the right and four rowers with their oars on the left. The rower nearest the cox is called the ‘stroke’. The stroke sets the rhythm for the others. He or she must have a superb sense of timing. The rowers all have to move forwards and backwards in time otherwise they will hit into each other. The rower at the front of the boat is called the ‘bow’. This ‘bow’ rhymes with ‘now’.
The stroke’s oar is on the right hand side. This side of the boat is called the stroke side. The bow’s oar is on the left hand side of him. This is called the bow side.
The seats of the rowers are on a slide. The rowers slide forwards and backwards as they move.
Rowers practice on land on a machine called an ergometer. This simulates the situation of sliding up and down the seat and pulling an oar. The ergometer is called an ‘erg’ for short. This machine has settings. It says timing, how many watts are generated, what speed the rower is going, what distance has been covered etc….
Rowers do all sorts of exercise to help them with rowing. They jog and they lift weights. If they are very competitive they avoid other strenuous sports. If an oarsman plays football and breaks his foot then he will not be able to row for months.
The rowers tend to be tall. They need long reach and to be able to slide up and down the seat. They are lean from all their exercise but muscular. They are not extreme musclemen because such men tend not to have stamina or speed.
The cox is the smallest person the rowing crew can find. They put him or her on a diet. He or she has to be as light as possible. He or she is a weight to carry and is not contributing to the propulsion of the boat. The cox holds handles on ropes. He or she pulls the ropes to steer the boat. The ropes are attached to a rudder. Pull the left rope and the rudder will turn and the boat will bear right. Pull the right hand rope and the boat will bear left.
Sculling is slightly different from rowing. Sculling involves a sculler having two sculls – one in his left hand and one in his right. Sometimes someone sculls as a single sculler as in he or she is the only one in the boat. A boat with a few scullers is called a double (if it has two scullers) quadruple (if it has four scullers) or an octuple (if it has eight scullers). There is also a cox.
Sometimes scullers go sculling without a cox. This means they have to look behind them and steer. This means they pull harder on the left hand side and less on the right hand side or vice versa. It is very tricky. They sometimes crash into the riverbank.
A rowing competition is called a regatta. Henley Royal Regatta is the biggest rowing competition in the world. It takes place in early July. This takes a week. It is on the River Thames. Henley is a town in between London and Oxford.
At Henley crews from all over the world compete. There are men’s crews and women’s crews. There are schools and universities represented. There are many Americans who take part. Crews from as far afield as Australia take part.
There is an annual Anglo-French rowing match. Switzerland is a prominent rowing nation. The Swiss row on lakes because they do not have many rivers with long navigable stretches.
At university rowing crews usually practice at 5 am. This is because it is the only time of the day they can get everyone together. The students all have different timetables. Rowers are dedicated. Rowing seems glamorous on a glorious summer’s afternoon. On a freezing cold January morning rowing in the dark is not so lovely. People who are in a serious crew are not allowed to smoke or drink alcohol for weeks before a major race. If you are caught smoking you are kicked out of the crew. The rowers must be in tip-top physical condition. Anyone who is not absolutely committed is not wanted.
Rowing is more popular in the summer. But competitive crews train 12 months a year. Rowing is sometimes called ‘aquatics’. This is because it takes place on water which is ‘aqua’ in Latin.
There are rowing clubs for people who are not at university. If a rowing crew is preparing for a major race they too will train at 5 am. This is because this is the only time of day when people can be assembled. This is unlike any other sport. You need the right number of people to practice. If it is an VIII you need 8 rowers plus the cox. You cannot row with 7 people because you would have 4 on one side of the boat and 3 on the other. There would be too much power on one side and the boat might capsize. If a rower cannot make it he or she needs to find a replacement to go and row instead.
Leander is a famous rowing club in London. It is named after the hero of a Greek legend who swam the Hellespont – that is the sea in Istanbul. Many rowers were classically educated so they knew about Leander.
Rowers wear a special one piece garment called a singlet. It is made of lycra. It allows for freedom of movement.
They wear headphones. They can hear the instructions the cox is calling out. He or she decides the tactics. This is about when they go faster and when they go relatively slow. It is no use going as fast as possible at the beginning. Because then the crew will be exhausted quickly and they will lose. At the beginning of the race it is important to get a good start. The crew will not pull a full stroke. The blade (oar) travels through the water for about 1 metre per stroke. But at the beginning of the race the crew will have figured out what small strokes they will do for perhaps the first four strokes. It often goes like this: half, half, three quarters, three quarters and then full strokes after that. If a crew tried doing full strokes right from the very start they would be too slow. The thing is to just get going – to overcome the inertia.
There are bumping races. This is when several boats are lined up along a river – one in front of another. The order is given to start. Each boat has to try to bump the boat in front. If they do so then they both drop out of the race – stop rowing.
If Boat D bumps Boat C then the next race D will be ahead of Boat C. If the next race D bumps Boat B then D will be ahead of B. If after that B bumps D then B will go ahead of D again. Bumping races take place over several days. The aim is to be the top boat – to be called ‘head of the river’. The boats have to reach the finish line and then they cannot be bumped.
There are ‘joke’ VIIIs in bumping races. These are people who are unserious about rowing. They wear fancy dress costumes. They do not care if they are bumped.
There are casual rowing boats. These do not go fast but they are comfortable. These are called jolly boats. Some are called ‘torpids’. Torpid means ‘lazy.’
So a rowing crew can be a IV or more commonly an VIII. Rowing is more popular than sculling.
There is a time honoured tradition. If a rowing crew wins a race they celebrate by throwing the cox into the river. In the River Thames this is dangerous because there are many water rats there and this creates a risk of Weil’s disease. There is rats’ urine in the river. If you have an open wound and the rats’ urine gets in you will be very ill.
In the United States the sport of rowing is called ‘crew’.
Rowing has been going on for thousands of years. People rowed on rivers and lakes as well as on the sea. In the ancient Mediterranean there were ships called triremes. These had three banks of oars – as in three levels of oars. Sea battles were fought by triremes.
There are famous Latin and Greek poems about boat races. One of these is in the Aeneid.
Eton College is the largest rowing club in the world. Eton produces its own boats. Eton sends it crews to advertise its boats. For example an Eton rowing crew went to Japan to demonstrate its boats. The Eton boys rowed against Japanese rowing crews. The Etonians beat all the Japanese whom they raced against. The Eton boys said they won because their boats are so excellent. In fact the Etonians won because they were twice the size of the Japanese. But the Japanese were fooled and bought the boats.
In Hong Kong there is an annual race where people row the circumference of Hong Kong Island.
In Hong Kong there is a special type of rowing called ‘dragon boating’. The boats look like dragons and there are up to 50 rowers. They do not have seats with slides. It is a very fun sport. One person beats a drum to signal the timing of the strokes.
People have rowed the Atlantic. They have to be able to anchor the boat at so night it does not drift.
Canoeing and kayaking are related to rowing.
Rowing is an Olympic sport.
- Is rowing an Olympic sport?
- What does the word ‘row’ rhyme with if we are talking about the sport?
- What is a coxswain?
- What is an oarsman?
- What is an oarswoman?
- What is an VIII?
- What is a IV?
- How does the cox steer the boat?
- What is a stroke as in the a rower?
- What is a bow as in the rower who is called the bow?
- What is a sculler?
- What is an octuple?
- What is so special about Henley?
- What is rowing called in the USA?
- Explain bumping races. (Five marks)
- Which is the largest rowing club on the planet?
- Why do university rowers row at 5 am?
- What is a dragon boat?
- Why do the Swiss row on lakes?
- Would you like to row? Five marks.