World Rowing says “Coastal Rowing is easier to learn than flat-water rowing,…” Well, this is true at a very basic level. Beyond that level though, we’ll see that Coastal rowing could very well be way more challenging!
For starters, on bathtub-calm water, a beginner can step into a coastal boat and not flip. So it’s a good way to gain confidence. Most coastal boats also have rounded bottoms, so even though they are stable overall, the bottom shape keeps the boats responsive. This way the beginner also learns how to balance and set a boat, again without the worry of constantly falling into the water. Coastal boats, being heavier than their flatwater cousins, also teach the beginner very rapidly how to hang on the oars and suspend into the big, boat-moving muscles. They also give a rewarding sense of acceleration through the drive, especially at low stroke rates. So yes, its is easier to learn in these boats, and a beginner will see quick improvement – whether that improvement is geared toward coastal rowing itself or as a primer for the initially harder-to-learn flat-water boats.
But after that initial stage of learning in a sheltered lagoon, you start to dive deeper into coastal rowing, and things get tricky real quick. If you have the wish to really push yourself in coastal rowing, your technique will run into a series of not-very-easy-to-learn challenges:
How is your bladework while surfing the cliff of a curling breaker, half slide, stroke rate a blender-like blur, keeping your weight to the bow to help the boat fall, fall, fall, in an exhilarating rush of impossible speed. Your outrigger screams as it tears through churning white water as the wave collapses into you – can you keep your speed up to outrun the rolling doom of foam and get back into clear water?
How is your catch when the water is simply not where you left it? When the boat is hanging in the air and there is no water to be caught? Can your blades enter cleanly into a boiling sea? What if every single stroke you took entered a whole new world of experienced movement as the sea constantly changes and surprises? Can you keep a consistent and smooth lock at the beginning of your stroke as you get rodeo-bucked on your little carbon seat?
Can you powerlift a heavy boat into a banshee wind with walls of water throwing thousands of pounds of backwards energy at you?
What about performing a clean finish when your entire boat is submerged? Literally, submerged, like just fell into a hole.
How cool can you be when the concussive booms of sky-obscuring breakers crash so loud that they blow away all rational thought and shake loose primal survival instincts in blood-saturating floods of adrenaline?
Can you react faster than the blink it takes for your boat to slew sideways in the whirlpool eddies of moon-pulled tide-rips?
This is the coastal rowing that I love. It is salt sore-opening insanity that challenges me every time I step into the boat, and carries my technique and my heart to places that are way beyond anything I would have thought possible.