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Row your boat


OARSMEN and oarswomen do it sitting down, backwards, dressed in Lycra, in ones and twos and IVs (and fives) and VIIIs (and nines). It is very good for you and deeply religious: you go forward while looking at the past.

As this is a low-impact sport, your skeleton is not jarred — that is the fate of my colleagues who insist on running. It can be done more or less for ever (some row in their 80s) and by almost anyone, including people who are significantly disabled.

Water is good, but not essential. If you can get to a gym or fork out for your own Concept II rowing machine, you can build up your stamina and improve your technique.

So, if you are fit or will get fit, what next? Join a club. Anywhere there is a decent width of river with some straight bits and somewhere to turn a boat will probably boast a rowing club. Oarsmen (I speak of those I know) are not always friendly at first, and are competitive. The sport provides many international and Olympic medallists. A boathouse, with its racks of boats and crews limbering up, can be daunting. But find out who the captain is; say what you want, and suddenly all will be smiles.

Most clubs have a good system of training new people, both on and off the water. A club such as Upper Thames on the Regatta Reach at Henley-on-Thames costs £330 a year for a full member, but has cheaper rates for students.

You will learn how to co-ordinate your arms, legs and back for each stroke, how to relax before catching the water on your blade and bursting into action, and how to flick your wrists to flatten (or "feather") the business-end of the oar to reduce air resistance while the oar blade is out of the water.

You will probably start in a stable boat, rowing (with one oar for each person) or sculling (with two oars each) and with a coach following in a launch or on the bank on a bicycle. You could end up rowing in a carbon-fibre VIII — very light, very fast. But most of your rowing will be in a four, either with a cox, or with one of you steering with your feet.

There are various combinations for rowing and sculling. A single scull (one person with two oars) might be 27 feet or more long, and less than a foot wide at the waterline. It is balanced only by the sculls (oars) reaching out on either side. It is sleek and as light as a feather; when you move in harmony with the boat and the water, you are in heaven.

My worst moment? Loosing my grip on one of my sculls, on which I depended almost entirely for balance, and watching it drift away when I was on my own in the middle of the Blackwater River. The best moment was when I got it back without getting wet.

Further information from http://www.ara-rowing.org

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