Patricia Carswell |

Life on the river: the newbie’s guide to rowing

Award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, shares her latest rowing adventures in her exclusive British Rowing blog – Life on the river.

You’ve completed your learn to row course, taken a deep breath and said, “I do” to the sport of rowing, for better or for worse. If you’re feeling a little daunted or bewildered, that’s totally understandable – we’ve all been there. So, here are a few words of advice to help you along the way as you navigate the rocky road from beginner to regular rower.

1 – Row, row and row some more

The best way to get better at rowing is to row. As much as you can. Get out on the water as often as possible. Offer to sit in whenever there’s a seat in a boat going free, especially if it’s with a more experienced crew. If there’s coaching available, get some. And if you have the chance to try a different type of rowing (sweep if you started with sculling, say, or having a go in a single), take it. Depending on your club’s set-up, you may need to be assertive and persistent, but it will be so worth it.

“I remember catching eight crabs in one outing and crying all the way home”

2 – Be cool with criticism

You probably feel there are 100 things to remember with every stroke, and just as you find you’ve mastered one thing you discover another issue to work on. However maddening it is, try to welcome the criticism and don’t give up. I remember catching eight crabs in one outing and crying all the way home, so I feel your pain, but I’m so glad I stuck with it.

If you’re the person in the boat getting all the criticism, keep your head. Everyone learns at a different pace and it’ll be their turn soon enough. And conversely, if you seem to be picking it up faster than the others, don’t get cocky. You might find you’re next in line for feedback.

3 – Get stuck in off the water

Volunteers are the lifeblood of rowing clubs – none of us would function without the army of people doing unpaid jobs behind the scenes, and it’s a brilliant way of meeting members beyond your crew. Play to your skills. If you’re good with tech, there might be a website that needs attention. If you have building skills, there’ll be work to be done around the boat house. You get the idea.

“Rowing can be a gloriously positive part of your life. Welcome to the club!”

4 – Don’t splash out

You may see other people with their own boat, their own blades, a gleaming erg at home or fancy kit. None of this is necessary to be a good rower, or to enjoy the sport.

Some of the best rowers at my club have none of the above. They row in tatty trackies and ancient t-shirts, are perfectly contented (and win plenty of medals) in club boats and wouldn’t dream of buying an erg. Your own rigger jigger can be handy if you’re racing but other than that you can get by perfectly well on club equipment, and with bargain basement sportswear.

5 – Relax and enjoy it

Remember this is what we do to have fun. If you have a bad outing, try to enjoy being outdoors. If someone’s being grumpy, let it wash over you. Stay away from club gossip and politics and be nice to everyone, however weird or annoying they may seem.

Rowing is a wonderful sport and with the right attitude and a bit of determination, it can be a gloriously positive part of your life. Welcome to the club!