Monday, April 18, 2011

The Tradition of the Toss

            Every society and group has a set of traditions that are unique. These traditions help to define who they are as a group. The community of rowing is no different than any other group, they have many unique traditions that are the same across all teams. These traditions help to solidify the rowing community across different regions and even different countries.
            A lot of traditions have to do with winning, or the quest to win a race. The coxswain toss is the most universal and most humors practice done by rowing teams across the country and world. When a boat wins their race the toss their coxswain in the water in celebration. They often toss the coxswain from the awards dock as they are receiving their medals. It is also used a motivational joke in the rowing community to get crews to move faster. The crews will try to win so that they can toss their coxswain, and it is a joke because this clearly is not the main reason why the athletes are trying to win the race. This tradition is done in all levels of rowing from youth rowing to the Olympic games. 
           The beginning of this video shows toss of Mary Whipple, the coxswain of the Unites States women's 8+, at the 2010 World Rowing Championships in New Zealand. The U.S. women's 8+ placed first winning a gold medal at the 2010 championships, and so with tradition their coxswain was tossed in the water. This video shows that the coxswain toss happens even that the highest level of competition. 

         The coxswain toss is learned at a young age. When rowers first begin rowing they are taught how to do this crucial part of the sport. It is always exciting to explain to a boat of new rowers after their first win that they have to throw their coxswain into the water. Here is a video showing the first attempts of a high school crew to through their coxswain in. Their coach explains how to do it and clams the coxswain telling her the toss is a tradition, and so she must participate. 

      There are many other more serious traditions in the sport of rowing, but the coxswain toss is often the most humors. It is a tradition purely for fun. It allows for celebration and excitement, even for the coxswains. Many coxswains see it as a bragging right to walk around a race course soaking wet with a medal around their neck. It is a  humors but clear distinction of their team's success. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Boathouse

            Every sport has their training ground and arena for competition. I have discussed in pervious posts the basic description of what a 2k course looks like, but in this post I am going to discusses the details of boathouses.
            Boathouses are in a basic sense an elaborate storage area. A boathouse’s fundamental purpose is to store boats. It is important to store boats inside so that they are protected. Boats are very expensive, and so it is better to keep the inside away from the elements of nature. Boathouses have bays that are similar to very large garages. Each bay has a large opening in which boats can be carried inside through. Once inside boats are stored on racks from the floor to the ceiling.
This is a photo of Trinity College's boathouse. It shoes the entrances to the boat bays. The entrances look like garage doors. 
Inside each bay are racks of boats. This is the inside of one bay in Trinity's boathouse. 

Often each boat house has a repair bay. This is either a smaller bay or just a back area of a bay. This area is designated for repairing boats, and equipment for repairing boats and boat parts is stored in this area. 

Although the primary purpose of a boathouse is to store boats, boathouses are also used for both training areas and social areas. Most boathouses have erg rooms in which athletes use to train on land. Some boathouses also have weight rooms and other training tools. In addition to training tools boathouses also traditionally include social areas. These social areas are used by members of the boat club to have meetings, events and simply socialize. 
Some of the oldest boathouses in the United States are in Philadelphia, P.A. These boathouses have elaborate social areas with beautiful porches over looking the water. The boathouses of Philadelphia are called boathouse row and are located on the Schuylkill river. 
This is a photo of some of the boathouses on boathouse row in Philadelphia. 

In these boat houses the upper floors are used as training rooms and social areas. The social areas are important in order to develop community within the boathouse. Boathouses ultimately are much more than simply storage areas. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Daily Sunrise

It’s 4:30 am and the shrill of an alarm clock wakes you. It’s time for practice. This is the normal morning for most rowers. It is a norm across teams to practice very early in the morning. For most people who are unfamiliar with the sport this just seems ridiculous. Why would anyone willingly wake up so early to do any sort of physical activity; why not simply have practice in the afternoon or later in the morning. Some rowers take claim to their early morning practice times. They use it as a sort of bragging right to how dedicated they are to the sport. Most rowers however simply accept it as a part of the sport.
            In actuality, there are practical reasons for early morning practices. In the morning, just before sunrise bodies of water generally have the flattest water. What it means to have flat water is that there is no chop or what are tiny waves.  Wind speed tends to be very little or nonexistent in the early morning. Flat water and little wind are ideal conditions for rowing. Flat water is ideal for practices. It allows for easier balance in the boat. When balance is easy for rowers, it allows focus of practices to be on more minor technical parts of the stroke. When rowers make changes on technique of their stroke, it allows the boat to set up in the water better, and this ultimately leads to more speed. The need for flat water is crucial and agreed upon by coaches and this is ultimately why early morning practice happens most often.
            In my opinion, there are also several other factors that influence crews to have practice in the morning. If practice happens first thing in the morning athletes are less likely to be distracted by other events happening in their day. They are more focused on just the task of practice. They are also fresh from rest and often are at their strongest. Early mornings provide the ideal conditions to improve boat speed. In addition to all of the practical reasons, it’s always nice to see the sunrise on the water everyday. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rowers Rejoice

            “Stakeboats are in across the country, rowers rejoice.” Row2k posted on twitter early this past weekend. This past weekend marked the unofficial start of the regatta season.  I say it is the unofficial start because there is no rule or law prohibiting regattas before this date. It is simply the time when those who run the regattas feel bodies of water will no longer be frozen, and the weather will be fair enough to race. Rowers rejoice because for most athletes the beginning of regattas signals the end of winter training. It is the time for competition. It is the time put to the test the year long training athletes have gone through.
            This past weekend may have been the start of the regatta season, but regattas should not be confused with dual races. Dual races, or commonly just called races, are races between simply between a few schools. The number of schools can range, but generally it is only 2 or 3 teams against each other at a time. These type of races have been occurring for the past few weeks. As teams headed south for spring break training they have been racing each other in these small races. These races follow a much simpler format then regattas. Regattas are a gathering of many teams. There are regattas with hundreds of teams in attendance. Regattas often last at least a weekend, but some are as long as week. Boats race many times. The boats go through an elimination process to see who is the winner. The basic format for most regattas is to have heats, semi-finals, and finals. So for example, the qualifications for a  regatta might be the top two boats in heats progress to Semi-finals, and the top two boats from each semi-final progress to the grand final. It is a way of weeding out the slower boats. This is the only way to conduct a races with large number of entries. You can not feasibly align fifty boats across a body of water, and so for practical reasons most courses are restricted to six lanes.
            Regattas are used more for clubs, and junior rowing. For these teams this is the main way in which they compete. For college teams, they usually begin their seasons with a few dual races, and then progress to regatta races.  In college rowing all championships are regattas, and most races to qualify for championships are regattas. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rowing Lingo

             In order to understand a culture you must first understand the people. Learning the language and expressions of the people help you to understand the culture. In order for you to better understand the rowing culture I will break down some of the common rowing terms.
There are many terms that a coxswain will use in order to communicate with their crew. Some of the terms coxswains use vary between the individual. Although the terms a coxswain uses are often important, I will only briefly address the terms that are consistent throughout the sport. I think it is more important to learn terms of the race and equipment in order to understand the sport as a spectator. These common rowing terms will allow you to converse with some knowledge of the sport.

First I will discuss the basic names associated with boats.
Shell: This is the physical boat without any equipment such as a riggers added to it.
Hull: This is the outside of the shell. The part of the boat that touches the water.
Rigger: Is bolted to the shell but is removed for travel. It holds the oar in place allowing the rower to move it on a more even plane.
Footstretcher: Located inside the boat and is where the rower places his feet (there are shoes attached to the foot stretcher in which the rower places his feet).
Seat: The part of the boat where the rower sits
Slide: The two tracks under the rower’s seat that allows them to move back and forth.
Next I will break down the basic movements of a stroke.
Catch: The part of the stroke where the blade enters the water.
Drive: This comes right after the catch. This is where power is applied to move the blade through the water and the boat forward.
Finish: This is the release of the stroke. This is when the blade exits the water. 
Recovery: This is where you move from the finish back up to the catch with the blade out of the water. You are moving your body back to the catch to take another stroke.

This is a video showing the basic movements of a stroke. 

General terms of the rowing
Stroke Rate: The number of strokes taken per minute
Bow Seat: Refers to the person in the front of the boat, closest to the bow. All seats are numbered 1-8 starting from bow to stern. The term 1-seat is never used. 1-seat is simply referred to as bow seat.
Stroke seat- This is the person closest to the stern who faces the coxswain. This would be 8 seat, but in the same fashion as 1 seat, the term 8 seat is never used. This seat is called stroke.
Cox Box. – This is the basic tool a coxswain uses. It is an amplification device that allows their voice to be heard throughout the speakers in a boat. The coxbox also records time and reads stroke rates.
Catching a Crab:  When the blade of the oar gets stuck in the water at the finish. It causes the rower to loose control of the oar and to become stuck at the finish.
Ejector Crab:  A severe crab. This is when the oar becomes stuck and the force behind the stuck oar is so powerful that it causes the rower to be ejected out of the boat.
Weigh-Enough:  Is a phrase a coxswain will use to tell a crew to stop. In the boat it means stop rowing, It can also be used on land while carrying a boat to mean stop moving.
Set: A boat is set when it is lying centered and even in the water. When a boat is set it allows for maximum speed. A boat can be offset easily, by many factors. Some ways a boat can become offset is by rowers body weight not being evenly distributed, by not catching and finishing together, and by rowers having different handle heights. Many practices are focused on improving the set of a boat.
Digging: Is when a rower is pushing their oar to far down into the water. It causes the boat to move upward in the air out of the water rather than moving the boat forward.  This also effects the set of the boat.
Washing out: Is when a rower does not finish their stroke. This often causes them to be off time from the rest of the rowers, and also prevents them from being able to apply their full power to the stroke. This also effects the set of the boat.
Skying:  This is when a rower sticks their blade too high in the air during the recovery by dropping their hands at the catch. It off sets the boat and makes it difficult for them to catch at the same time as the other rowers in their boat. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Collegiate Rowing

            In the last post, I discussed the differences in age categories based on juniors, collegiate, and master’s rowing. Collegiate rowing is further broken down into different subcategories. Rowing, like any other sport, can be broken down by gender; however unlike other sports there are actually differences in how the sport is regulated based upon gender. Women’s rowing is a sport recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). What this means is that the NCAA governs and regulates the rules of the sport for member teams.  The NCAA also provides a national championship arena in which the best teams are selected to compete. Teams that are members of the NCAA are divided into Division I, Division II and Division III. The differences in funding and recruiting ability are the same in rowing as they are in any other NCAA sport. In rowing, the major difference between Divisions is the definition of what constitutes a “team”. In Division I a team is considered a first 8+ boat (rowing lingo reminder: the + designates that the boat has a coxswain), a second 8+ boat, and a 4+ boat. For Division II a team is a considered an 8+ and a 4+. A division III team is comprised of a first 8+ boat and a second 8+ boat.
            Some schools’ with rowing programs choose not to join the NCAA. These teams are considered club sports. A club rowing team receives little if any funding from their institutions. Theses teams are not allowed to participate in certain regattas such as the NCAA championships.
            Also in rowing, there are lightweight teams. For lightweight women’s rowing, athletes must weigh less than 130lbs and all the rowers in a boat must have an average body weight of 125lbs or under. Lightweight rowing is not recognized by the NCAA.
            Men’s rowing is not a sport recognized by the NCAA. Men’s rowing is only ever considered a club sport. Although they are considered a club sport, some division III institutions offer men’s rowing the same funding as the women’s division III team and consider the men’s rowing team an intercollegiate sport within their institution. Within men’s rowing there is also a lightweight category, participants must weigh-in under 160lbs with a boat average at or below 155lbs.
            It must be noted that participation of teams in the NCAA does have any influence on the teams strength or speed. In men’s rowing many teams have very strong alumni support which allows them to have the budget of an NCAA division I women’s team.  However, the various divisions verses club in women’s rowing does generally correlate to the strength and speed of a team. It is not always a given rule that a Division I team will be faster than a Division III team, and that a Division III team will be faster than a club team. As I previously said the Divisions and club status simply control the budget for coaches and equipment, the ability to recruit, and restrictions on the amount of time a team is allowed to practice. The determination to win and dedication to the sport is always up to the athletes of a team. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Never to Old to be a Novice

            Rowing differs from many sports because it allows athletes to learn the sport at a competitive level late in life. In most sports, in order to be successful in the most competitive arenas, training begins at a very young age. Children in the United States are introduced to the classic sports such as soccer, football, baseball, softball, and basketball through peewee leagues. Children are as young as five when they begin to play these sports competitively on teams. In terms of age of entry, rowing differs greatly from the classic sports.
            In rowing, the youngest athletes are high school aged children. High school aged athletes are referred to as juniors. The governing body of rowing in the United States, USRowing, defines Juniors as anyone under the age of 19. Juniors row both for boat clubs and for their high schools, if the school has a team. The standard sprint race for rowing is a 2k course, but for juniors their sprint races are often abbreviated to a 1.5k course.
            Although some athletes begin rowing in high school, many rowers do not join the sport until college. Rowing is a unique in the world of sports because it allows rowers to join at the collegiate level without prior training in the sport.
            What allows rowers to be successful at the sport so quickly in the competitive arenas of both juniors and collegiate rowing is unique status of Novice. In both juniors and collegiate rowing the first year of participation in the sport athletes are allowed novice status. There are races at regattas sanctioned as novice races. These races allow for competition between inexperienced rowers, but still in a competitive field. The novice year is extremely important in allowing athletes to join the sport at the collegiate level.  Fielding a novice team is the standard in college rowing. The novice teams are a sub grouping of the overall team. The novice team is comprised of athletes who are in the first year of collegiate rowing. This includes athletes who have never rowed before, and athletes who have only rowed in high school. The novice year allows athletes to learn about the sport and time for them to hone their skills and speed. The coaches of the novice team work with athletes to teach them the basics of the stroke, and within a year, the coaches have the athletes on the same level as the experienced varsity team. The novice team does not contribute to rankings of the overall team, or contribute to qualifications for championships.
            It is important to note that athletes are not required for the first year to be categorized as a novice rower. If a coach feels a first year athlete can contribute to the varsity program the athlete can be moved up out of the novice team.
            Adults in the rowing world are referred to as Masters. Athletes classified as masters are generally past the age at which they could enter as a member of the national team or compete at the most elite races. The type of athlete ranges greatly in the master’s category. Some athletes choose to be very competitive, while other athletes choose to use the sport as more of a social activity. Even at the masters level many people pick up the sport for the first time. It is never to late to learn the sport of rowing.