Outdoors | Manatee County Youth Rowing shows Herald's Jason Dill the ultimate team sport

jdill@bradenton.comMarch 23, 2014 

PARRISH

At first glance, it seems like a simple motion.

It gets complex as information is flung your way.

But while it's not as easy as it looks, it's not as tough as you make it out to be. That's the first bit of advice I received from Trish Jackson, head coach for Manatee County Youth Rowing -- an organization featuring student-athletes from Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee high schools -- upon my arrival at Fort Hamer in Parrish this past week for a crew tutorial.

That statement rang true during my experience in the water.

Before that occurred, I was greeted by four Manatee County Youth Rowing captains. They were Palmetto senior Todd Chastain, Palmetto senior Jackie Roberts, Southeast senior Courtney Converse and Manatee senior Jarrett Tsai.

They sent me to the Erg, a machine used to instill muscle memory needed to perform optimal rowing technique.

The motion is to push off with your legs, then lean your body back, then move your arm high toward your chest. Then you reverse it on the way back: arms, body, legs.

After several minutes of trying to get my brain to accept the order, we parted toward the boats. I ended up going into an eight-seated boat and was given instructions on the differences between the Erg and the boat and what to do and not to do in the one we were taking out on the water.

I also learned specific rowing terms, from portside and starboard to oarlocks and riggers, and everything else.

Once that occurred, the captains assembled a crew to accompany my voyage onto the water at Fort Hamer.

And, no, there were no alligators. Nor was I in danger of flipping into the cold water thanks to the experienced rowers nearby.

The crew then worked in a synchronized motion to lift the boat overhead and carry it on our shoulders into the water. We did not use the dock.

Then we climbed in carefully, one foot and then the other. And you had to step in a certain area of your assigned seat. I was in the first spot, which dictates the pace of the boat as each person behind followed my lead.

In an eight-person boat, we were sweeping with me responsible for one oar. It alternates after that, and each person is slotted in a seat assignment. The first spot is, "No. 1," with each seat with an increasing number as "No. 8" is in the last seat.

We did some balance drills before I learned the stroke while the boat stayed somewhat stationary.

It was an oval type maneuver, and I was told to imagine a kitchen table, keeping things above the table one way and below the table the other way. The oar glides along the top of the water until you get it toward the end, it drops in and the momentum completes the stroke and gives the boat its speed.

The idea is to create as much leverage as possible.

While this was going on, Roberts was positioned in front of me in the coxswain seat. This is the equivalent of being the captain of the boat. Her job was to shout commands and steer the boat with her orders.

Now that all the preliminary stuff was taken care of, we embarked on a short voyage before returning to the bank so I could take Roberts' place in the coxswain seat to get that experience.

We rowed a short distance to the nearest marker. My shoulders and lower back were going to be sore the next day after the work put into each stroke. The rowers in the front rested, while the rowers in the back rowed to turn the boat around so we could return to the shore.

The same thing occurred when I got the experience of coxing. I didn't have to bark out the commands, because the rowers assembled were more than capable of doing the job on their own with some instructions from Chastain, who occupied the first position.

Watching the crew work in unison from the coxswain seat was a treat, and it showed just how much rowing is the ultimate team sport.

I was told I didn't do too poorly, but the main thing that I learned from rowing was that it's not as complicated as I made out to be, but it's not that easy either. A lot of practice and experience is necessary to master it.

While there are plans to get a masters program going for adults, the club is just high school crews at the moment.

And without their patience and guidance, I would definitely have remained a fish out of water.

So kudos to the athletes who stayed the course, and the captains -- Chastain, Roberts, Converse and Tsai -- who answered all questions and aided this amateur's foray into rowing.

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