by Ed Ryan and Lang Keith
Maybe you’ve seen the rowing shells on our lake in the early morning “Glimmerglass” hours, or maybe you’ve been intrigued by John Kruzinkski rowing a racing shell in the opening credits of the Jack Ryan series. Regardless, how does anyone learn to row a very skinny boat, let alone steer it when facing backwards?
This past month, our rowing club, Otsego Area Rowing (OAR), based out of Brookwood Point, hosted two rowing camps for novice junior rowers, ages 8 to 15, and successfully taught 18 brave young souls the art of rowing. The young rowers came from schools around the region. The coaches were all experienced rowers, including one former U.S. Olympic rower, Andrea Theis, and Whitney Macdonald, as well as Laura Kilty, Joe Novitski, Ed Ryan and Lang Keith. During the second week coaching was augmented with graduates of OAR’s previous camps: Iz Dudek, Creighton Williams and Charlotte Feury.
The campers arrived at Brookwood each morning of the week for a three-hour session, which started with some land-based training that included the basics of the rowing stroke as well as how to get oars and shells from their racks to the water. That training quickly transitioned to an on-the-water and in-the-boat experience. Water safety was emphasized by all the coaches. Shells are notoriously tippy, but the installation of outrigger pontoons allowed the young campers to row without fear of capsizing.
Once in singles (one-person boats), the coaches had their work cut out for them as the kids got the swing of things and learned how to balance the boat, turn to starboard and port and, most importantly, to look over their shoulder while rowing to see where they were going. They were first connected to a coach with a long tether, which allowed the coach to give instructions while controlling the shell. Once the kids could apply the basic rowing skills the tether was dropped and the coaches instructed from their own boats. Next, many moved into “team” boats, with two or four rowers. Those shells gave the campers a greater appreciation of the joy of moving a shell quickly through the water.
By the end of each week, the kids could row singles and team boats, and they had passed the very important “capsize test,” which requires one to tip over the shell, fall out, and climb back in, all without capsizing again. Easier said than done, but they all learned and had a lot of fun doing it, especially as the weather was sunny and the water was warm.