Words Rowers Never Say

In the quest to save you from dirty looks and eye-rolling, here is a short list of what not to say about rowing.

It’s an oar, not a paddle. Paddles are for kayakers or canoeists. Never rowers.

You row in a boat, or a shell. You never row a canoe or a kayak. And it’s not dragon boat racing. (You’d be surprised at how often this is messed up.)

“Row row row your boat.” Unless a preschooler is within a six-foot radius, never sing this. (Sadly, this is a headline reporters love to use when writing about rowing.)

“My hands hurt.” OK, sometimes we do say this, but we don’t dwell dramatically upon it. Blisters are a sad fact of rowing life. Endure your pain quietly--rowers of all experience levels are dealing with the same thing. Going on and on about your mitts brands you as a rookie.

Yelling “STROKE! STROKE!” at a passing crew. Rowers, coaches, coxswains never say this. Only random people watching from the shoreline who know zero about rowing say this. (If your fans come to watch you row, don’t let them say this, either.)

“Rowers must have strong arms.” Rowers have extremely strong legs. It’s a leg sport—a push with your legs, not as much a pull with your arms. (Outgrowing your skinny jeans after your rowing career begins will illustrate this to you as nothing else can.)

“Rowing is easy.” It’s not. It’s not a motion your body naturally makes, and rowers spend decades trying to make their stroke efficient, strong, and graceful. It’s routinely listed as one of the toughest sports out there. I remember a learn-to-row student who told me rowing was easy because he got on a rowing machine and pulled as fast as an Olympic rower—for 5 strokes, with the worst form imaginable. It's been over ten years since this happened and it still makes me cranky. Don’t be that guy.

“Coxswain” is pronounced “cox-un.” Your coxswain is the brilliant member of your team who steers the boat and encourages you to excel beyond measure. So do pronounce the word correctly. (In the U.S., they are called the “cox” for short, and once you can say that without sniggering, you have become an honest-to-goodness rower.)

Speaking of coxswains, next post we’ll talk more about who they are, what it takes to be a good one, and if maybe this could be a role for you.