I think I've found a magic well that contains the elixir for anti-aging, and it has a bucket-full of terms to keep you thinking young. Shells, hulls, gunwales, slides, foot stretchers, rudders, skegs, and oarlocks on the riggers with blades to square and bury after you feather. Weigh enough! If these terms sound strange to you, you are not alone my head was spinning when I first heard them. They are part of a special language used by rowers, and I hope to become one of them.
We are so lucky in the Chautauqua Watershed. Flowing out of Chautauqua Lake is the wonderful Chadakoin River, smooth and calm, meandering from side to side as if it had all the time in the world to meet up with its big sister the Allegheny River. The perfect place to learn to row and the perfect people in the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association to teach you.
For years, I've driven by the CLRA's big red building on Jones and Gifford near McCrea Point and seen the "Learn-To-Row" sign. I would say to myself, "I really want to do that!" and this time it worked out. This was a good year to try rowing because, along with the Saturday instruction, we were offered the option of coming back the next week for more lessons and more time in the boats out on the water.
The oar box on the dock is a wonderful tool to help beginners get the feel for rowing without the worry of being in the boat.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
The Saturday session included three stations. We were broken into groups, and each group was assigned to a coach. My first station was an introduction to the "ergs" or ergometers. They are rowing machines that closely mimic the rowing motion. It was quickly evident that rowing is a lot of leg power and not so much upper body, a totally different concept than I had anticipated. We were taught the proper technique and terms: the catch, drive, finish and recovery. Start at the finish, weigh-enough or stop at the catch and remember to go slow through the recovery. I felt like I was learning how to drive a car again, and I made lots of mistakes.
The next station was down on the dock in the oar boxes. These are rectangular wooden frames with a seat, a slide, a foot stretcher, a rigger and an oarlock attached. They are used so you can see what it feels like to be in the boat and row without being in the boat. Pretty nifty teaching tool. When you first get into the oar box, you ease yourself down onto your seat which immediately slides away from you. The seats are on a rail that allows them to side back and forth as you push or drive the stroke with your legs. So, after you catch the seat, the next test of agility is to secure your feet into the shoes on the foot stretcher as the boats have shoes in them. Finally, you are given the oar and taught how to maneuver it. I really needed a lot of instruction here.
Then, at our third station, we were given a page of terms and commands - so important for communication. Finally, we got to carry a boat to the river and try some drills on the water. I goofed up many times, but the coaches were patient and understanding. Being in the boat on the water whetted my appetite for rowing, and I returned as many days as I could the following week.
Rowing is a fun and a totally unique team sport. I love the physical workout and, at my age and with my worn-out knees, I can still do it. That is, if I can remember which is the catch, where the finish is and how to get out of those darn shoes.
Log onto www.rowchautauqua.org and check it out. You'll be glad you did. Stay safe, and see you on the water!
Susan M. Songster-Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.