2018 World Rowing Coastal Championships, Victoria BC Canada

Salish coastal rowers are learning to ‘dance with water’

An update from Annette O’Shea of the Salish Sea Coastal Rowing Club in Vancouver, B.C., Canada

‘The focus is not on the rower, and it’s not on the boat, it’s on the ocean’ – Annette O’Shea

Eight of us are training to compete at the 2018 World Rowing Coastal Championships so far. We have a couple of singles and doubles, although we would love to enter a quad.

Every Saturday night for two hours, we practice racing – regardless of the weather or water conditions, so we have gone out in some pretty big water.

On a recent Saturday we went out in 20 knot winds, three-foot waves and a nine-knot tidal current. It was very wavy and windy but very fun and challenging conditions. It took us 45 minutes to travel 5 kilometres outbound, but only 15 minutes on the return. It was great fun to go out and bash around. I love the video (below) where the sailboat suddenly zooms by, it shows how strong the wind was.

While we practised, we worked on constantly adjusting the oar height to ensure the blade “found the water” because with big waves, sometimes there is water rising up to you, and sometimes the water is falling away from you, so it is challenging to keep the blade at the right depth.

We also worked on surfing the waves on the return journey, rowing at various stroke lengths and speeds to catch a wave and then stay on top of it and, “ride it on home.”

Our rowers are of course rowing other days of the week on their own training program.

Some of us have entered local paddling races with surf skis and kayaks to get some race time in and practice turning around buoys.

Turns are tricky in coastal boats because our boats with oars take up a swath of more than 20 feet, while the other paddle craft take up three or four feet. So when we overtake them (and yes we do) or when we meet them at the turns, it is full contact with oars and paddlers.

This bashing at the turns seems to be encouraged by FISA with the WRCC race course, so while it’s giving us good practice, we do have to buy a LOT of beers for our paddling friends later.

I think that the profile of coastal rowing is definitely entering the consciousness of flat water rowers. Rowing BC is hosting “come and try” events with a fleet of coastal boats http://rowingbc.ca/try-coastal-rowing/

Rowing BC is offering a training camp this summer, and our club will attend. There are also a few Canadian ex-pat rowers from San Francisco flying up to attend.

We have had lots of interest in WRCC from a few local clubs and a lot of west coast American clubs. It looks like there will be a strong American contingent at the competition. I am hoping that more Canadian clubs join us.

It is so much fun to go out and bash around in the waves and realize that you have to constantly adjust to the water conditions every moment. The technique focus is on your ability to feel what is happening with the water, not what is happening with the boat. Is there a current? Which way is it running? Are the waves coming in sets of fives or in sevens? How am I going to time my turn within the sets of waves, without flipping?

I like that the focus is not on the rower or on the boat, it’s on the ocean. I find it really takes me out of my head and challenges me focus on the ocean, the waves and the motion. Coastal rowing is about going with the water and responding to the ocean conditions.  

Coastal rowing is more like dancing with the motion of the water, while flat water rowing feels like I am ice skating, where the focus is on the motion of the rower. These days I prefer the dance!


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