Row Row Row Your Boat

Ok, I have to admit that in spite of rowing for many years and coaching the sport for a couple colleges, I never really saw it as something that I would pursue through life. I mean, when you get right down to it, it's a tough sport to stay enthusiastic about. In order to get the calmest water possible, you've got to get out there so early that the cool kids haven't even gone to sleep yet. Then when you get on the water, just a little wind can stir up chop which gets in the boat and soaks your clothes making that wind cut so much deeper. Why sacrifice sleep to drive 20 minutes to be cold and wet on rough water where you can't row well anyway? Racing shells have maybe 4 inches of clearance above the water, so a little chop can seriously impede your ability to row well. So despite my appreciation for the sport, I never really saw myself in it forever.

All of that calculus changed this week when I went out on Commencement Bay.

Here's the story: Last week I contacted Steve Wells who runs Evergreen Rowing, a boat seller down on Dock street. I was looking to see if he thought I was nuts for wanting to put CrossFitters into rowing shells for next year's Throwdown. To summarize him, “Yes, you're nuts. But I've got another great idea {whisperwhisperwhisper} And why don't you come out on the water with me next Monday at 9?” I jumped at the chance. It's been years and I've never rowed on big open water like Commencement Bay.

The first thing he taught me is that these are a class of boats designed for open water and they are so stable and seaworthy they can shrug off waves and boat wakes. Within a few strokes I felt like I was a master, no rust at all. The crazy thing to me was that it didn't feel heavy or sluggish in spite of the wide beam and waterline. We soared across the water like white pterodactyls. Before I knew it, we were navigating around barges and cargo ships at anchor. We rowed down Ruston Way before turning around at Dukes. Out and back was 6+ miles in about 90 minutes. It was 55 degrees and slightly rainy but by the end of the row I was down to a t-shirt and vest and the occasional rain drop was welcomed.

Tacoma Strength, CrossFit Tacoma, Rowing, Museum of Glass

Museum of Glass

Wednesday I went out again at 9 AM which is late for rowers, at Western, we were at the boathouse at 5 AM. This time I invited new member Sally M who had mentioned that she wanted to learn how to row when I showed her the machines at the gym. While Steve gave her an intro to rowing lesson, he told me to take the other shell and get out of his way (only much nicer). So I took off on my own. This time I explored toward the Simpson mill, where I met a couple of curious seals. Since I was there I decided to see if I could go up the Puyallup. A family of four seals accompanied me, playing peek-a-boo all the way (you can see the round head of one in a picture I snapped). I made it to the I-5 bridge in almost exactly an hour. With the help of the current, I was back at the dock 40 minutes later. On the way back when passing through the confluence of the Puyallup and the bay, the chop would have been enough to make a large flat-water shell unstable, but it barely slowed me down in an open-water single. The temperature was damn near freezing, my teeth had been chattering after the bike ride to the dock, but once out there in the calm, I was stripping layers again.

Tacoma Strength, CrossFit Tacoma, Rowing, Seals

Seal Buddies

Steve explained how the hills of Tacoma shield the water from the prevailing winds out of the southwest, and today the mass of Brown's point sheltered it from wind coming out of the northeast. One of the things that struck me so much was the variety of the place. You get to row through a dense urban downtown, on the open water among ocean-going long-haulers and tugs, or explore the myriad waterways of the port. On other days you could row out to Vashon or Gig Harbor. I don't think you could follow the river up to Sumner, but it would be fun to try.

Tacoma Strength, CrossFit Tacoma, Tacoma

Tacoma Downtown

I've been on every body of water that has a rowing club or school in the state (including several in OR, CA, and NY) and I never enjoyed any nearly as much as our own Commencement Bay. I'm trying to think how I can convince Leon to agree to buying a shell "for the gym." The takeaway for you, dear reader, is that we have a connection for one of the coolest and most unique sporting experiences in the world. Steve is willing to give a free intro-to-rowing lesson to those of you who are interested. You probably won't get out of the Foss right away, but you'll be out rowing on your own on the first day. You just have to let me know and I'll set it up.

Tacoma Strength, CrossFit Tacoma, Rowing, Puyallup Bridges

Puyallup Bridges

By Morgan on Sunday, November, 24, 2013