When You Are the Odd One Out

This is rowing’s “moose on the table”—what everyone encounters, but no one talks about, and no one wants to plan for:  what if you arrive at the boathouse, and there’s no room for you in a boat?

For example:

·      The 8+ needs a port rower…and you only row starboard.

·      The team is sculling (two oars per rower)…but you only know how to sweep (one oar/rower).

·      One or more of your teammates doesn’t show up (for reasons that are legit, or maybe not so legit).

·      An odd number of rowers shows up, the music stops, and you don’t have a seat.

Dear Novice Rower, this happens to all of us. When it happens, I believe it hurts like nothing else. It assails your self-esteem. It offends, it humiliates, it angers.

But it shouldn’t.

Here are some ideas to make the most of rowing when the numbers work against you.

Ride with the coach. I liken it to spending time alone with your parent, away from demanding siblings. Learn what your coach likes, what he/she doesn't like, and get to know them better. If you’ve been working on fixing something in your stroke, now is the perfect time to ask about it and watch a teammate who has mastered it. You can also be helpful—run the stopwatch, run the video, make yourself useful! It’s time totally well spent.

Become a rent-a-rower. Ask other teams at the boathouse if they need a body in a seat. You might row with more experienced rowers (always desirable!). You might have a different coach that gives you a great new perspective. You might row with members of the opposite gender. (I shouldn’t have to point this out, but this presents lovely opportunities for single rowers.) You might become a mentor to the next batch of green novices (a serious boost for a wounded left-on-the-dock ego). Be a good sport and make yourself available.

Learn to row a 1x. Take the plunge (possible pun intended)! If you learn to row a single, you are virtually guaranteed to row at every practice. Rowing a single also makes you a much better rower in team boats. Your mistakes are magnified and you “feel” them immediately when you are the only one moving the boat. However, rowing a 1x might mean you first have to…

Learn to scull (two oars, rather than just one). Just do it. Grab a boat the size of a bathtub and take those first double-handed strokes of total freedom! If you know the rowing stroke, you’ll get the hang of it faster than you think, your sweep rowing will improve, and your coach will love your initiative.

Learn to cox. Learn rowing from the forward-facing seat. Encourage your teammates while you get to know your home lake or river from a different perspective. It’s a skill that will always serve you well, and you’ll love your coxswain even more after you’ve tried it yourself.

Learn to row both port and starboard. My first day of learn-to-row, I was plunked into a port seat. I have never, in 20+ years of rowing, ever rowed starboard. (Gah!) I’m the worse for it. Learn to row both sides, and get good at switching between the two. The odds of finding a seat will increase exponentially.

Engage an erg. I know…not so fun when the water beckons. But doing the on-the-water workout on the rowing machine means you get the workout in. (And when you are tired at the end of the workout, you don’t have to row back to the boathouse. Just roll off the erg and head for the showers. Bonus!)

Get in a land workout. By keeping running shoes in your boathouse locker, you can go for a jog, run hills or stairs, lift weights, do pushups, situps, burpees…the possibilities are endless.

The question is not if you’ll be left standing on the dock without a boat, but rather when. Be prepared. Have a plan. Turn it into an awesome twist of fate that makes you a better rower.