History of the sport of rowing
Since time immemorial, men have sailed the waters ways, rivers or the sea. For centuries the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Phoenicians used the arm strength to move their boats before using the wind. The Phoenicians were using silk cushions in order not only to use arms only but combining is with legs.
But even if the ancients considered an honor to row their boats and triremes, it quickly became a galley slave task. Sails and sailing use put an end to that slavery.
Anyway, early 19th century in England, rowing as we know it, becomes a sport and grows on the European continent as well as in the US. Since 1828 the universities of Oxford and Cambridge challenge themselves in a famous race. During the century, other regattas are taking place in the following decades like Henley (Henley Royal Regatta) or Lucerne.
From half of the 19th century, clubs are started in Belgium too and regattas organized like the one on the canal at Terdonk and other cities.
The technique is also changing. From heavy boats, tubs, wide, clinkers, fitted with fixed tholes (two long pins slightly spaced from each other, fixed to the boat edges to allow the oar to rotate in it) and fixed seat (no leg action) called skiff, we move gradually to narrower boats.
These were lighter and their hull is made of wood sheets, with outriggers mounted on the sax boards of the boat to fix oarlocks and swivels supporting oars and sculls (paddles). At that time, the first fixed seats make place to seats equipped with wheels which roll on rails increasingly longer with the time, from 30 cm, 60, 80 and 90 cm over time.
Even if the rowing technique seems simple, it is not. The former athlete and coach René Vingerhout used to say that it takes 12 years to make a good rower. It’s not far from the truth.
Moreover, the technique has also evolved, from a very broad body and arms extension, almost lying down, forward and back, due to the lack of seat slide length, to a more upright body posture thanks to a every decade longer seat sliding.
The stroke steps are
1. the draw, moving the boat forward, pressure of the oars/sculls in the water,
2. the end of the stroke, the extraction of oars/sculls, blades (part at the end of the oars/sculls)
3. The recovery, sliding forward to get back to the beginning of e new stroke (body forward, blades out and above the water)
4. and the catch, diving oars/sculls in the water.
So, these steps, the stroke, require the measure and mastering, flexibility and also precision as well as power.
A fine tuning operation. Fairburn, an Australian coach of English college Christ Church in Cambridge, came up first with this theory of flexibility in the rowing stroke. He is also the author of the saying « miles makes champions. »
There are 8 categories of rowing boats, 3 called « sculling » with two sculls by rowers, 5 called « sweep rowing » with one oar per rower.
In « sculling », the single scull, one rower, double scull with two rowers, and quadruple scull, four oarsmen.
In « sweep rowing »: the coxless pairs with two rowers, the coxed pair with coxswain, two rowers and a coxswain, the coxless fours and coxed four or eight with coxswain.
The later is always coxed with eight rowers and a coxswain, this is the « king » of boats.
There is also sculling eights in some countries for young girls and boys under 15 years, also called octopulls … to be promoted in Belgium.
Olympic categories are:
1. The single scull
2. Double (double sculls)
3. The double light weights (70kg rowers +/-)
4. The coxless pair
5. The quadruple sculls,
6. the coxless four
7. the lightweight coxless four
Oars & sculls have also changed with the years. Firstly the blade was symmetrical, thin and long, called « flute » and then it became wider with a curved shape called « Macon » (host city of the European Championships in its first use) and even later with a tulip-shape.
Since the 90s, the blades took an asymmetrical shape, “ax” shape, big blade, that has even more evolved in recent decades, have been equipped with a vortex at the edge, chopper, big blades, to smoothies and Faties.
On the other hand, the length of the oars/sculls (their shafts) was shortened to compensate the larger surface of the blades and lighten the resistance in the water.
Races and competitions takes place on a 2,000 meters distance for Olympic and international regattas. Races for young rowers under 15 take place on 1000 meters for the « masters », more than 27 years rowers.
There are also in the winter “heads of rivers” on longer distances, more kilometers. The Oxford-Cambridge race is competed over 4 miles and 250 yards, for example. Finally there is also the sprint races on 500 or 1000 meters.
There are also « wandering rowing encountering » whose distance is not compulsory or regulated and depends on the tourist interest of the way.