One of the best forms of exercise you can engage in is rowing. Rowing uses nearly all of your muscles: your arms, shoulders, and back; your legs and buttocks (because the seats slide back and forth); and even your abdominals, which tense up with each stroke. And for a cardio workout, you can row as intensively as you wish. If you’re in a single scull, you can alternate periods of strong rowing with periods of rest; if you’re in a pair, or a crew of four or eight, you’ll have to follow the program. And if you join a seniors’ rowing club, chances are you’ll have a chance at competition, which involves sustained hard work. In any event, you’ll be in great shape!
There are two basic forms of rowing. In sweep-oar rowing, each oarsman has a single oar held with both hands, either port or starboard (depending on which side of the boat the oar extends from). The boats — referred to as “shells” — are in various configurations, for two, four, or eight rowers. Pairs and fours can have a coxswain, who steers the shell and goads on the oarsmen, or not; eights always have coxswains. The other form of rowing is referred to as sculling, in which each oarsman has a pair of oars. Boats for sculling accommodate single rowers, pairs, or fours; none of these are coxed. Some clubs also have octuple scull boats, which are coxed, but these are rare.
Rowing, whether sweep rowing or sculling, takes a knack. The oars are big — for sculling, up to 10 feet long, and for sweep rowing, up to 12 feet long — and, if they’re made of wood, heavy. (Modern oars are considerably lighter, made of a synthetic material such as carbon fiber.) In multiple-person crews, the rowers must all row in synch with each other, following the lead rower or “stroke”; each rower’s oar blade must enter the water and leave the water at precisely the same time. If a rower can’t remove his oar from the water in timely fashion, the shell’s forward motion will cause the oar to get “stuck” in the water and smack parallel to the boat, considerably slowing down the boat. This error is known as “catching a crab.” Some rowers who lose control of their oars in this way are actually thrown out of the shell, though this happens rarely.
For most rowers, the sport is a lifelong attachment; rowers get started on crews in high school (often a boarding school), continue the sport in college, and then join rowing clubs, if available, as adults. However, even if you’ve never rowed before, there’s no reason why you can’t pick up this immensely rewarding, and healthy, occupation as a retiree. You’ll need access to a rowing club or a local university with a crew program to get you started. Most clubs offer classes for beginners; you’ll need some initial instruction. Sweep-oar rowing and sculling use different motions, and neither is even distantly related to paddling a rowboat! Once you have a little experience, you can begin rowing with beginner crews, working your way up depending on how the rowing club operates.
Some longstanding clubs may offer memberships to experienced rowers only; it is simply the preference of the membership at such exclusive clubs to row at the highest levels of accomplishment, and most participate in competitive rowing. However, members at these clubs will gladly recommend alternative clubs that welcome “newbies” and offer classes. Once you have some experience and can produce a few references, you can reapply if you wish to the more exclusive club.
If you don’t have access to a rowing club but still want to row and are near water, you can purchase your own single scull boat and take it out on your own, to whatever reservoir or river you have in your area. (If you have friends who want to pitch you, you can collectively purchase a double or quad.) Scull boats are delicate — they are not suitable for whitewater rapids! If you get a single, remember, you’ll need to hoist it over your head and carry it yourself; these boats can weigh 100 pounds or more, but racing models made of fiberglass can be only 30 pounds. Scull boats are expensive; used boats in good condition can set you back thousands of dollars.
Rowing, either in a club with a crew or on your own, is a wonderful occupation to take up in your retirement; it’s great exercise, and rowing clubs build strong camaraderie among members, who are often passionate about the sport. Rowing can easily become a lifelong pursuit, for the second half of your life.