Like most sports, rowing requires clothes that are functional and specialized. Dressing incorrectly makes you stick out. (And, dear Novice Rower, this is not what you want.)
Unlike most sports, wearing incorrect clothing can send you flying into the water. (This is also not what you want.)
So let’s be sure you show up to row in clothing that’s going to work for you, and not against you, yes?
Taking it from the top:
Your Head: My teammates swear by hats. They keeps longer hair in place, brimmed hats keep the sun out of your eyes, and they can keep the cold, wind, rain, snow, splashing water off your noggin. Headsweats make some of our favorites, with cool wool beanies being the cold weather alternative. Again, snug is key here—your hands will be otherwise occupied, and a diving catch to keep your cap from blowing overboard will bobble your boat and might even send you swimming. Also, if you have long or longish hair—figure out how to keep it from blowing in your eyes. Which brings us to…
Your Eyes: Sunglasses appropriate for watersports cut the glare of the water and help you see clearly—especially important if you are the one steering your boat. Be sure they fit tightly to your head. (Straps are a great idea—especially if they float.)
Your Face: Sunscreen. Sweat resistant and high SPF. (Just wash your hands when you are done, or your grip on that oar will be darned slippery.)
From the Waist Up: One of my rowing buddies dresses in three layers—tank top + lightweight long sleeved shirt + heavyweight long sleeved shirt. She’s prepared for anything, and it’s easy to strip down as the workout progresses.
Everything you wear up top should be sweat-wicking and snug-fitting, while covering your back completely when you bend at the waist. Cotton gets soggy. Shorter shirts equal cold or sunburnt lower backs. Loose clothes catch the end of your oar, snag your thumb, get caught in the wheels in your rowing seat and wreak general havoc. (Avoid them at all costs!)
Where to Buy: As you may have noticed in your daily travels, rowing specific clothing isn’t especially easy to find. A good substitute for your top half is yoga clothing. It fits tightly, it wicks like mad, and it is usually long enough to protect your lower back from indecent exposure.
My favorite shirts are from Lululemon. While they ain’t cheap, they last for years (5 and counting, and are functionally the best I own. Their customer service also rocks the house if something should wear out before its time.
My other favorite shirts are rowing specific, and come from JL Racing. JL garb is made in the U.S.A. (hurrah!) and is worn by rowers around the world. At the beginning of the spring, fall, and winter training seasons they sometimes offer novice training “packages” that gear you up in one click. It’s a beautiful thing. They are also a big supplier of regatta gear, which we’ll cover as racing season approaches.
Coming in part deux: the lower half, and how to keep it dry warm and functioning!