Rowing proves more oarsome challenge than it looks

Rowing proves more oarsome challenge than it looks

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The ergo and the training boat are good training for when you want to make your escape down the Shing Mun river.
The ergo and the training boat are good training for when you want to make your escape down the Shing Mun river.
Photos: May Tse & Thomas Yau/SCMP
This summer's London Olympics, the world's biggest sporting event, starts today. Sadly not all events are on at HK-friendly times, but Young Post is looking out for you. The team has been trying out Olympic sports and we're sharing our experiences. This week: Joyee Chan and Karly Cox try pulling together


Joyee

We ladies love pampering ourselves at the weekend with a sumptuous afternoon tea at the best cafes.

Flowing dresses, pretty clutch bags, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a good hot pot of jasmine (for me) and Darjeeling (for Karly) tea are a few of our favourite things.

We give the impression that we walk only with tiny, elegant steps, and the sportiest thing we would do is whip cream for fairy cakes for the YP team.

No one seems to know we do enjoy the outdoors, and don't fear the sun, however fierce it might be - that's what sunscreen is for. And to prove it, we decided to row on a stretch of the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin. But, of course, it wouldn't be possible without a crash course at the Sha Tin Rowing Centre.

Before getting onto the water, coach Wong Chi-wing taught us the basic movements on an ergo.

Although the machine doesn't float, it is a good way to train beginners. We sat upright on the ergo's movable seat, adjusted the foot straps and took hold of the T-shaped handle with both hands.

What comes next takes perfect co-ordination between the arms, legs and back - and that's challenging.

You always start by extending your bent legs until they are straight, then leaning back and pulling your arms towards you. This motion, known as "drive", is where the majority of the power in each stroke comes from.

The classic errors we made were hunched backs and moving our arms in a circular motion instead of horizontally. It also took time to get used to the idea of breathing in while on the drive motion, and exhaling while recovering to the initial position.

Karly, with her longer limbs and stronger core muscles, repeatedly beat me on minute-long tests. But we didn't stand a chance against our coach, who rowed twice as fast.

Karly

My university is in a river town, and has a strong rowing tradition. I was too busy drinking tea, er, I mean, studying, to get involved. But it looked like a lovely, relaxing activity, so I was keen to join Joyee in this challenge.

Having, I thought, got to grips with the ergo during the first session, I was confident that getting on the water would be a breeze. How very wrong I was.

We first sat in the training boat next to the river, and the first problem was clear - a pair of blades is nothing like the handle on an ergo! While still on dry land, we learned how to get into the boat without tipping it. It was difficult enough doing this in a pretend boat - I got very worried about tipping in Joyee, who is much smaller than me, once we got into the real thing!

Once you're in the boat, you grab the oars and take up the "rest" position. Then came the most complex lesson - controlling the blades. You hold the "handles" lightly but firmly, with your thumbs over the ends, and you need to be able to rotate them.

Then it all begins. You push the handles forward, bending your knees and pulling forward. With the handles out in front of you, the blades will be behind you, hovering above the water. You first have to lower them into the water, making sure they are perpendicular to the surface. Then you pull the handles in, the blades push the water forwards, and you move. Backwards.

Finally, it was time to get in the boat. I got in front and Joyee sat behind - the taller person goes in front, so that they can set the pace (it takes longer legs longer to complete one stroke), and the shorter person behind follows that pace. We sat down (miraculously without capsizing), and coach Chan Wai-hung pushed us away from shore. We were off! We whooshed!

The biggest problem for us is that rowing looks far easier than we found it to be. The coach was very kind, yelling encouragement from the bank and telling us to relax - which immediately made me tense!

The oar handles got tangled, the blades refused to move in sync (I always seemed to only feather one at a time, creating drag with the other), Joyee seemed to move much faster than me, and there were a couple of moments when we nearly fell in (although given how hot it was, that might not have been the worst thing).

I was filled with awe at how professional rowers manage to make rowing look so effortless, when we were finding it such a struggle to remember the combination of legs, arms, breathing and relaxing.

But all the frustrations aside, the few times we did get a good few strokes (and moved a couple of metres on each stroke), it was exhilarating. Rowers get an amazing view of their surroundings, and the chance to really work closely with their teammate(s). We're talking about dragging a couple more Posties with us and trying again - but maybe we'll try sweeping next time!

Go rowing

Hong Kong, China Rowing Association
Tel: 2699 7271
Address: 27 Yuen Wo Road, Sha Tin
E-mail: hkcra@rowing.org.hk
www.rowing.org.hk

Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
Tel: 2239 0322
Address: Kellett Island, Causeway Bay
E-mail: rowing.secretary@rhkyc.org.hk
www.rhkyc.org.hk

Watch

Men's medal races:
Eight: August 1, 10.30am (5.30pm in HK)
Single Sculls: August 3, 9.30am (HK: 4.30pm)
Quadruple Sculls: August 3, 10.10am (HK: 5.10pm)
Four: August 4, 10.30am (HK: 5.30pm)

Women's medal races:
Pair: August 1, 10.10am (HK: 5.10pm)
Quadruple Sculls: August 1, 10.20am (HK: 5.20pm)
Eight: August 2, 12.30pm (HK: 7:30pm)
Single Sculls: August 4, 9.30am (HK: 4.30pm)

See what else we're doing this summer

- Sailing
- Equestrian
- Boxing
- Taekwondo
- Archery
- Rhythmic gymnastics
- BMX
- Trampolining
- Handball

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