Here are a few tips to make your drive smooth when the waves kick up. When your boat is bouncing up, down and all around, there are a few key points to keep in mind.
Ease into it! Don’t jump on the front end. When rowing through rough water, your boat weight can be very variable. If you are getting hit by a whitecap, the boat will be quite heavy as it gets slammed with water. If you are sliding down the backside of a wave, you’ll slip lightly along. Use the first few inches of the drive to get connected and get a feel for how much weight is in your hands.
Be patient. Let the beginning of your drive stabilize the boat. In choppy seas, your recovery, no matter how balanced you are, may have the boat rocking and rolling. Set the blades in the water and ease into the stroke, allowing the first few inches of your drive to establish connection and bracing of the boat.
Mid-drive = accelerate! If the beginning of the drive is to connect, to discover how much weight is there, and to stabilize the boat, then the middle drive is time to jump on it. In rough water, you are generally going slower and pulling more weight as water flies all over your boat. When you get to the mid-drive, you are in a much better position to put a lot of strength into the oars. If you try to jump off the catch, you’re likely to either hurt yourself or just rip the blades through the water, creating tons of effort for little return. Feel a smooth acceleration from the ease at the beginning to a powerful mid-drive with a great send at the finish.
Stay loose. Find the balance between power and looseness. If you stiffen up, the blades are likely to wash out. Remember that the water is moving all over the place and can be suddenly higher or lower by an alarming amount. Keep loose so you “roll with the punches” and stay connected.
Finish strong. Keep accelerating to the bitter end. Keep the blades locked in as long as possible to maximize stability and to set you up for a good recovery. The recovery in rough water can be pretty tough, as the blades get smacked by waves. You need to stay active in your core to balance the boat through shifting seas, so give yourself a little help by accentuating the finish.
Release square. This is something usually covered right in the beginning of sculling lessons (i.e., get your blade completely removed from the water before going onto the feather), but it gets that much more important the rougher it gets. Turbulent water is unforgiving to a blade feathered even a touch too soon. Get out of the water cleanly and completely so those waves don’t grab hold!
These tips should keep you smooth when the going gets rough. When things get exceptionally crazy, there are additional techniques that can be employed to modify this suggested drive style. Running giant breakers, surfing or pulling into gale force winds require their own tricks and modifications, which we will discuss in another installment. In the mean time, find some rough water and embrace the waves!