Can you learn to row in just 4 weeks ?

A group of us at Icon decided to enter the City of Bristol Rowing Club Corporate Row to learn a new sport, have some fun and get fit. How hard could it be for 8 people to push a boat through the water? The promise was to learn to row well enough in 8 lessons to compete in a regatta against the other teams entered. Challenge accepted.

We arrived for our first lesson full of bravado but quite nervous as well. Our coach said, ‘it takes about 4 years to learn to row properly but we are going to try and teach you to row sort of properly in 4 weeks ’. Hang on, I was hoping to be Olympic standard by the end of this course…  Then our coxswain told us ‘when we are in the boat, I’m the brains, you are just the muscle’.  However insulting, this was aptly demonstrated as we tried to get the boat in the water – they are enormous, about 65 feet in length and surprisingly heavy considering they are hollow  – and even this simple exercise required coordinated teamwork following the cox’s strict orders to ensure no-one got decapitated or squashed – both of which were reasonably likely.

Once in the boat it got worse. I had never realized those boats were a) so narrow b) so unstable and c) that you were quite so close to the surface of the water. After a few hair raising moments we got the boat out on the river and started to take it in turns to row. It is certainly not as easy as they make it look and every stroke involves at least 10 specific and concise instructions. And that is even before you start adding in the power (from the legs), balance (even the smallest wrong movement with your hands can rock the boat), timing (8 people have to move exactly as one), and how to avoid the terror of ‘catching a crab’ when the oar gets caught in the water and is ripped from your grasp, all of which we had to learn and perfect in the following weeks. Oh and learn how to race too.  And no-one tells you this sport has its own language designed to keep non-rowers baffled. As our cox shouted instructions such as: crew to front stops, back it down, hands away and feather the blades, he was met with 8 blank faces. Needless to say by the end of our first lesson we were just grateful none of us went in the river.

However as the lessons went by and our coach, Oz and cox, Diego shouted at us more it actually started to feel like we were becoming a proper rowing team. It soon become apparent that although our team was made up from 5 girls and 3 boys it didn’t make much difference – it is more down to correct technique and timing that moves the boat efficiently through the water not just raw power alone. The coaching was on occasion a little bizarre as we tried rowing with our eyes closed, attempted a 3 point turn in a canal just 6 inches wider than the boat, and tried to row standing up, but we were more than happy to give anything a go. And with Matt as our stroke leader and Lara steering us at bow we honed our skills rowing through the centre of Bristol passing all the summer evening drinkers on the banks and the late night office workers. We certainly saw a different side to Bristol as we paddled silently through the waterways and canals.  Only once did we come very close to being flattened by the ‘Matthew’.

Come race day we were up against teams selected from giant corporations such as Nokia, Babcock and Lloyds TSB, so as the underdog we had to try and prove that big doesn’t always mean better…. What we lacked in skill we certainly made up for with enthusiasm and team spirit! And one thing is for certain we had the biggest and best support from our Icon colleagues on the day. We couldn’t have asked for more. Well perhaps a win, but second place isn’t bad for our first try. There is always next year….

Many thanks to all of the City of Bristol Rowing Club volunteers who coached, coxed, organized and made the whole experience thoroughly amazing. I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact two of our team enjoyed it so much they are now members of the CoBRC women’s novice team. Good luck Marina and Sara!

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