For coastal, the catch is essentially the same as in flat-water. But as we will see, there are a few nuances to really getting coastal catches down, and in a lot of ways, the catch is the most important and elusive moment when the water kicks up. To review some of the keys of the basic catch:
The catch is the end of the recovery. It is not the beginning of the drive. This is an important mental distinction that will lead to technical precision. If you think of the catch as the end of your recovery, you are more likely to set the blade before you pull. You can’t move the boat until the blade is in the water. So just at that last moment of sliding forward on the recovery, lift your hands and set the blades – now your drive begins. See that – you don’t want to get all the way to catch position and then set your blade. Those two things are the same moment. The blade needs to unfeather and start traveling into the water just a moment before you arrive at full compression, so full compression happens at the exact same time as the blades enter. There is no gap, no pause. This timing allows all of your movements to be “slow” or patient, while your catch is the perfect speed of “instantaneous.”
The path of the blade into the catch should curve downwards. It is not a straight chop down. It’s a reaching back and down as you take that last inch of slide forward. Or, looked at in the same direction of the boat – the blade is travelling forward (towards the bow) on the recovery, and it should continue to do so as it drops down! If not, you are liable to be “rowing it in” and missing your catch.
You unweight your handles. The blade just drops quite naturally into the water. Don’t force it into the water, don’t hold it back. Just let it drop. The blade finds its own depth. Its easy and relaxed – and that makes it effortlessly quick.
Once the blade is in the water, the drive may begin. You start the drive with just a feeling of connection – the feet connect through the body into the hands. There is a distinct feeling of “locking” between your feet, hands, and blades. You are loaded and the drive is poised to accelerate the boat. I’ll talk more about the coastal drive in another post. For now, it is important to recognize the feeling of the blade having entered the water and locking in as preparation for your drive.
Here’s the thing about coastal: you have to be really, really good at all of that! Because you will not have the water calmly sitting where you left it. It might jump up to grab you. It might fall away and avoid you. It might do the opposite thing on either side of you. It might surprise you and be perfectly level for a moment too.
So this is where the idea of the catch as the end of the recovery is so important. Do not take a stroke until you are certain that the blades are in the water! Don’t assume because your “hands are in the right place” that the catch is executed. When your boat is lifting over a wave, sometimes the water is a long way down. You need to reach that water before you can move the boat. Be sensitive. Approach each catch as if it is a question: where is the water? Catch confidently, yet tentatively (sort of a Taoist moment, that one). Look for the water and let the feeling of the blade submerging and locking-in be a trigger for you to begin your stroke. Your drive is a reaction to your catch, rather than an arbitrary moment. This is also important when the water jumps up and grabs you- i.e., as you approach the catch, a wave rises and envelopes your blades. This may happen before you are ready to catch. However, if you are approaching the catch with that questing sensitivity, you will have trained yourself to respond to various situations, and to respond to the feeling of the blade setting in the water. So if the catch happens “early” it is no matter, just begin your drive. Its what you always do anyways: catch, then drive. As you approach the catch, the only thing to do is catch – no drive exists without a catch. So whether you are reaching for the water, or the water is reaching for you, there is ideally no difference. Either way, as soon as you feel the blade in the water, you can drive. The trick is recognizing that the timing will often change since the water will often be in different places. Might be sooner, might be later – either way, as soon as you feel it, go ahead and drive. If you haven’t felt it yet, don’t go. Kind of simple, when you think about it that way!
The other thing to be aware of in coastal is BOTH of your hands! Seems silly to say, but make sure both of your blades have executed a catch before you drive. This will become very obvious the first time you get one blade in the water, and one blade not. It can happen when there is a peak of a wave on one side, the trough on the other. These create vastly different water heights on each side of the boat. Yup, I know because I’ve done it – one blade locks in, you throw your weight into the drive, the other blade flies across the surface and you lose your balance as the unequal pressure torques your body to one side. Sometimes, or in fact often, you will catch with your hands at vastly different heights from each other.
In conclusion: to master the coastal catch – master your catch. But take the sensitivity of your movements a step beyond the simple repetition of muscle memory. Recognize that each catch might be a unique moment, and each catch has to be “caught” before anything else can happen. Learn to feel the moment the blade enters the water, and recognize the feeling of a blade that has really taken a set into the water. Sort of a “don’t think about it, feel it” aphorism. In time, it becomes very obvious. But it is the single most important thing for coastal rowing – make sure you do not drive until you know, without a doubt, that your blades are in and you have “caught” the water, wherever it happens to be! When it gets really bumpy, just keep chanting to yourself: “set the blade, then drive…set the blade, then drive.” Its really patient, this coastal stuff.