How to Get Started
Whether you’re looking for competition, socialization, or fitness (or all three!) rowing is a fantastic team sport that gets you out on the water. Because rowing is not an individual activity, however, it does take a bit more pre-planning when you’re looking to start off.
Rowers get to experience placid sunrises during early morning open rows. Whaling City Rowing has playfully dubbed their practice “Dawn Patrol.” (Image: Whaling City Rowing)
If you think you might be interested in rowing, the best way to try out the sport is to sign up for an introductory row with a local rowing club. Rowing clubs can be divided up into two categories: collegiate-style sculling, which takes place in the longer, narrower racing shells you might be familiar with from university crew teams; and whaleboat or gig rowing, the wider boats with crews of six to seven people that are more common in our region. In sculling, each person uses two oars (one oar in each hand), while in rowing each person uses one oar (two hands on one oar).
Most local clubs allow you to participate in two or three team rows for free. Regardless of your fitness level, don’t be surprised if you find this sport difficult on your first few times out – you’ll be engaging new groups of muscles, and it takes practice in order to develop synchronicity with your team. It’s important not to get discouraged when you first start out!
After your introductory sessions, you’ll need to become a club member to continue on with the sport. From there, you’ll quickly find that the best way to become a better rower is to row more! Off the water, you can strengthen the muscles needed in the boat with exercises for your legs, arms, and core. Rowing machines can help you work on your motion and form, but the drag and weight of the oars is very different from what you find on the water.
Terms & Tips
If you’re rowing with a team, you’ll hear a whole new set of vocabulary used by your teammates. To help you adapt to this new language, here are some of the terms you may hear out on the water.
- “Ready-all” – Commands rowers to assume the position at the start of a stroke, leaning forward with arms fully extended. (Or, if pushing the boat backwards, leaning slightly back with hands tucked into the chest.)
- “Pull together” – Commands all rowers to begin rowing.
- “Avast” – Commands the rowers to stop rowing and pay attention to the boatsteerer. The oars should remain in the oarlocks, perpendicular to the boat side, and level with the water.
- “Hold Water” – Commands all rowers to slow or stop the boat by placing oar blades in the water.
- “Stern All,” “Back Stroke” or “Back Water” – Commands all rowers to row backwards.
- “Out Oars” – Commands rowers to position oars perpendicular to the water in preparation for rowing. This must be done in a domino fashion to avoid tangling the oars.
- “Trail Oars” – Commands all rowers to pull the oars in and position them aft, alongside the boat, out of the water. This is used in order to pass anything that might hit the oars, or in preparation for placing the oars into the boat. Oars will be pulled in reverse order to that used in outing the oars.
- “Catching Crabs” – A term for when your blade catches in the water and pulls you backwards off the seat. If you find yourself “catching crabs,” press down on the handle of your oar fast and hard to get the blade out of the water. Alert the boatsteerer if you feel yourself falling.
Places Where You Can Learn
These five rowing clubs offer the opportunity to learn how to row, meet new people, get some exercise, and appreciate our local waters.
Whaleboats & Gigs
The Azorean Maritime Heritage Society offers rowing and sailing in traditional Azorean whaleboats in Clarks Cove in New Bedford.
Azorean Maritime Heritage Society (New Bedford)
The Azorean Maritime Heritage Society preserves the area’s traditional Azorean culture by rowing and sailing traditional Azorean whaleboats. The unique, brightly painted wooden boats were traditionally used for whaling, but now they provide an opportunity to connect with the waters of Buzzards Bay. The Society practices in New Bedford’s Clarks Cove from June to September, and participates in both local and international regattas. Open Rows are held several times per week for all skill levels, and individuals can sign up for two free rows or sails before joining as a boating member.
Buzzards Bay Rowing Club (Fairhaven)
Buzzards Bay Rowing Club offers open rows in their whaleboats four times per week throughout the year, which is a great way to try out rowing and meet new people. Based at the Fairhaven Shipyard, Buzzards Bay Rowing Club rows primarily in inner New Bedford Harbor. The club also travels from Essex to Martha’s Vineyard to compete in races, and sponsors some races of their own, such as the Open Water Challenge and Working Waterfront Race.
Dharma Voyage (Westport)
Based out of the Westport River, Dharma Voyage has a range of rowing options, from relaxing social rows to intense race team training and coastal excursions. Crews row two different boats: a 32-foot, six-oared Cornish Pilot Gig as well as an Australian surf boat. All of Dharma Voyage Rowing is enhanced with instructor Ben Booth’s international Zen-based training, bringing the ancient path of personal mastery into the art of rowing.
Whaling City Rowing (New Bedford)
Whaling City Rowing members row in New Bedford Harbor from Pope’s Island Marina. This club connects to local history by rowing in replicas of the whaleboats that whale ships carried when they embarked from the harbor. Whaling City Rowing offers two free rows to those who are interested in trying whaleboat rowing before joining.
Racing Shells (Collegiate Rowing)
New Bedford Rowing Center (New Bedford)
The New Bedford Rowing Center offers programs for adults and youth of all skill levels, and the center’s teams compete in regattas throughout the region. They row in New Bedford Harbor from Pope’s Island Marina.