What a change in the weather from the glass-like waters of Iron Cove last week, to a bit of “breeze” and chop creating more of a challenge for all our crews.  It’s great to see all our crews still getting out there, working hard and, hopefully, still having fun. Battling the elements this week, we caught up with two more of our crews – on the ergs and on the water.

A few more photos have been added to the collection. View them here.

The Consep Oarvengers

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Coached by Erika Addis, who has recently returned from competing at World Masters Games in Italy, it’s “Ciao” to the Consep Oarvengers. One of our more experienced crews, with just two novice rowers and LRC member Rhys Morgan in stroke hopefully instilling his crewmates with his enthusiasm and rowing wisdom, it’s great to see the Consep crews back on the water for the Corporate Challenge this year.

Pymble Try-Hard

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Cunningly electing to train at a civilised hour on Sundays, and therefore much fresher than most of the other crews during the week, the Pymble Try Hard crew was inspired by the Pymble Ladies College Hope Regatta for parents, and have enticed in some additional new rowers as well. Coached by Marguerite Pain, the Pymble Try Hards took in some training on the ergs before heading out onto the water, coxed by none other than LRC’s illustrious Captain, Steve Duff (bulky but brilliant – definitely worth his weight in gold as a cox).

Looking a bit good?

At around this point in the Corporate Challenge training program, crews are starting to notice other boats on the water. In particular, novice crews start to get a bit edgy about still rowing only 6 at a time in a wobbly boat when other crews seem to be gliding past with everyone rowing and looking a bit too professional! Don’t stress. Come the Regatta, our master handicapper Steve “Stavros” Duff will do his utmost to ensure a level playing field (or regatta course) for all our crews – male, female, novice and experienced. Our goal is to get some fun, competitive, close racing between the crews, regardless of whether they’ve only just taken to the water or have spent their youth rowing their school’s First VIII. However, we can’t achieve this unless you complete and return the Rower Status Forms, which will be sent to your Crew Co-Ordinator. Please make sure they’re back with Justin Milne as soon as possible (if you haven’t already given him full details of your crew) so we can start on the complex handicap calculation process.

Technique – Squaring and feathering

square blades Aus eight

AUS Women’s crew rowing square blades

One square, one feather

One square, one feather

Most novice rowers start off rowing with square blades to establish the sequence of the stroke before adding in another element – blade work. When you start to introduce squaring and feathering the blade, it can be confusing as each hand has to work independently, and timing when the oar is square and when it’s feathered can disrupt the sequence or result in rowers attempting to take the catch when the oar is still feathered or feather while the oar is still in the water. (Click on the pictures to see them bigger)

Why and when to feather

There is no hard and fast rule as to when the feather should be done. The feather is really there to prevent problems if the balance is not perfect or to allow the spoon to pass untroubled over rough water. In a headwind, it also reduces drag. However, in the grand scheme of the stroke it is not important and, if for some reason, you cannot fit it in, then don’t. In general, the feather should take place as the hands are moving away from the body at the start of the recovery and before the knees start to rise. Ideally, everyone in the boat should square and feather at the same time. However, for beginners, the most important thing is to focus on extracting the oar from the water square before feathering the blade i.e. not feathering while the oar is still under water.

The feather is a smooth, non-violent action. It is important that the height of the handle does not change during the feather as this will also affect the height of the spoon which should be just above the water when squared. Your hands and the oar height above the water should be the same whether you are rowing square blade or feathered – feathering the blade does not mean dropping it onto the surface of the water. The key to achieving this is to feather only with the inside hand. Keep the outside hand as a loose grip which maintains a constant height.

Independent roles of each hand

Outside hand

The outside hand: the hand on the end of the oar handle, is responsible for the extraction and entry of the blade into the water, plus it carries the weight of the blade and balances the blade. It is also the main “pulling hand” during the drive and finish. It can be thought of as a hook attached to the end of the oar – it doesn’t do much except to attach your body to the oar.
Release/tap down: The outside hand draws the handle through on a level plane until it reaches the body, with forearm flat and elbow past the body. Then pivoting from the elbow you push the handle down to extract the blade from the water (all the time keeping the wrist flat). After this move, the inside hand rolls the blade onto the feather, while the outside hand takes the weight of the blade and starts to push the handle away on a level plane through the recovery phase.

Entry/catch: On the way forward, the weight of the blade is kept in the outside hand; and using the minimum of effort needed the handle travels along a flat plane parallel to the surface of the water. Sometimes this is described as “carrying the oar forward” i.e. keep control of the blade (and balance of the boat) but don’t do any dramatic movements. After the inside hand has squared the blade you lift the handle to place the blade in the water. It is a crucial concept to think of the ENTRY as the last thing you do on the way forward.
At no time during the stroke should your outside hand come off the handle, NEVER.

Inside hand

The inside hand is responsible for feathering and squaring the blade. At the finish, the inside elbow is kept near the body (not flailing) and the wrist is quite flat (i.e. not contorted and up). From there, the movement is to roll the handle out from the palm of your hand and into your fingers – the push away with the outside hand will help to achieve this and the oar itself has a natural position to sit square. On the recovery your wrist stays flat with the handle still in your fingers. As you approach the catch, you must make sure that the blade is completely squared before you are at full slide. It is generally accepted that the blade should be squared as it travels over your ankles. When you square up, you do it with the inside hand. The handle is rolled from the fingers back into the palm of the hand, keeping your wrist flat. Try to visualize that your knuckles stay on the same plane and just as you want to square the blade they slide forward on top of the rolling handle. Don’t roll your wrist to square the blade as this will cause the handle to move downwards and the blade to move away from the water (not good).

One common mistake is to grip the oar tightly into the palm and use only the wrist to feather the blade. This will lead to the forearm seizing up during a hard piece such as a race and, in the long run often leads to injury of the forearm. The other most common mistake is squaring too late. Squaring early means that your blade is prepared as you approach the catch so you only have one thing to think about – putting the oar in the water. Square even earlier than you think!

To any rower who’s struggling with squaring and feathering the blade – it’s perfectly fine to row square blade throughout the whole race if you find it easier. In fact, if the boat is moving fast and you’re worried about your blade “getting caught”, rowing square will help to get the blade in and out of the water faster and reduce the risk of catching a crab.

Rowing in rough water

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Rough water

It’s been a little bit windy and bumpy on the water this week, so here are some words of advice from the Open Water Rowing Center in Sausalito on Rough Water Rowing Technique. Originally written in relation to single sculling, the advice is equally valid for sweep oar rowing in an 8+. Basically – RELAX! And yes, we know that’s easier said than done!

Don’t Fight The Water

The biggest problem for rowers on rough water is their tendency to stiffen their upper body, arms and hands. Once this happens, the oars can no longer provide stability during the stroke, and every bit of roughness in the water is transmitted to the body of the rower, compounding the stability problem. The first advice for rough water rowing is to relax and learn to work with the water. The same relaxed shoulders and light hands that allow good handling in flat water will smooth out the stroke and stabilize the boat in rough water by allowing the oars to stay with the water during the stroke.

Keep a Loose Grip On The Oars

Never put a death grip on the oars to handle rough water. This can be the single, biggest problem when rowing in rough water! Keep as light a grip as you can. This will let your blades stay at the proper depth in the water during the stroke, thus helping to balance the boat. Loosening your grip also keeps the blood flowing, lessens the possibility of forearm cramps, and allows you to keep your feel of the water through your touch on the oars.

Relax, Relax, Relax The Shoulders and Arms!

Relaxed shoulders are necessary whenever you row. In rough water, they are even more important. Loose shoulders allow the arms to act as shock absorbers in rough water, swinging to whatever position the blades require to stay at their proper depth during the stroke and the proper height during the recovery. If your blade hits a wave top on the recovery, a relaxed shoulder will allow the oar to bounce up and be repositioned at the proper recovery height, all without passing the shock through to your body. Think of the oars as being attached to the body at the shoulder; your arms are merely extensions of the oars and should respond to whatever movement the oars require to produce the correct positions during the stroke. So allow your arms to always swing at the shoulder.

Shorten The Stroke

When the water is very rough, you need shorter, more frequent strokes and steady, smooth power. Keeping your knees low and reducing to 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 slide will lower your center of gravity and help with balance. The slightly higher stroke rate will make up for the loss of run (glide between strokes) that you will experience in rough water. Shorten your stroke according to your cox’s call and maintain control of the oars on the recovery to retain your balance. When you find the right stroke length for the conditions – both the size of the waves and the wave period (the space between wave crests) – the boat will settle down and handle more smoothly. In extremely rough water, stop your hands about 3 or 4 inches away from your ribcage at the finish of the stroke. This will allow more room to drop your hands and release the blades from the water. If you finish with your hands close to your ribcage, as you do in flat water, you risk jamming an oar handle into your hip if the boat rocks suddenly when you are releasing the oars from the water.


Our adaptive rowers are a constant source of inspiration and this month we’ve got plenty to celebrate with Eric Horrie winning his first World Championships in Chungju, South Korea in the Arms and Shoulders men’s single scull, in a world best time. Kathryn Ross and Gavin Bellis also took Gold in the Trunk and Arms Mixed Double – Gavin’s first World Championship win. Our adaptive rowers were all ecstatic with their results, as they should be. However, it’s a quote from the silver medalist in the Arms and Shoulders Women’s single scull that really captured why we get up early in the morning, day after day, and get out on the water in the cold and dark – and reflects the Leichhardt Corporate Challenge philosophy.

Birgit Skarstein (ASW1x) – NOR – Silver 2013 World Rowing Championships:

«It was great, I worked so hard and it worked! I love the fact that rowing is such an integrated sport. It’s something that all sports can learn from, it really mirrors society and I think that rowing is the introduction to an ideal world.»

Enjoy this video on erging technique:

Till next time!
Virginia van Ewyk