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Blue Heron side view

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit of a rowing kit geek. I have strong views on what is OK and what is not when it comes to river attire, and will be the first to admit that I’m picky. So when Blue Heron – the new kid on the kit block – launched last year I was keen to find out if they would have something new to offer.

Happily I had a chance to find out for myself when Blue Heron kindly sent me one of their rowing suits – an all-in-one (or unisuit) to the likes of you or me – to try. And such is my commitment to all of you that not only did I try it out, I was even prepared to pose outside in it, on a freezing day. You can probably see the pain in my eyes (though that’s partly the after-effects of an erg test the night before).

So, what did I think? The Women’s Henley is an unashamedly high performance piece of kit. Light as a feather, with a mesh panel at the back, it is designed for people who work hard on the water and on the erg and is a really classy bit of sportswear.

Blue Heron back view cropped

Super-comfortable, I found nothing to chafe or irritate, and the detailing is superb. There’s a cute little zip at the front and – brilliantly – a rear pocket with a separate, zipped mini-pocket so you can keep your rings or keys safe and carry your water bottle. There’s a reflective stripe on the back and it has a water-repellent finish. The price tag reflects the quality – this all-in-one retails at an eye-watering £95, but if you have the budget for a luxury item it is a lovely piece of apparel.

It’s worth noting that it is not the most forgiving garment. Although there’s some flattering contouring, with grey side panels that make your waist look a little narrower, the combination of a dropped waist and white front panel means that it’s not one to wear on a fat day or straight after Christmas, and it might not be for you if you’re carrying too much spare. But this is aimed at the high performance market, where I’m guessing most people don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.

Blue Heron front view

If you’re going to wear this it’s probably also a good idea to get hold of a nice, white sports bra. My black one meant I couldn’t quite do it justice, but don’t let that put you off.

The Women’s Henley is available from Blue Heron for £95 and comes in seven sizes, with three different height options. They make specific suits for both men and women and amply cater for tall people (real rowers) as well as midgets like me. Check out the Shorty, which has short sleeves, and the long-legged Winter, both of which have a touch of merino wool for warmth and breathability. Definitely worth a browse.

With thanks to Blue Heron.

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As you’re probably aware, I like to keep things non-political at Girl on the River. But I’m going to make an exception when it comes to this week’s Iowa caucus. Amidst all the hoo-haa over the defeat of the Trumpster and the rise of Rubio, there was one real winner in Iowa. Behold Rowing Dude, who steadfastly ignored Ted Cruz’s lecture on left wing judges because he had an erg to complete, and nothing – not even a caucus in the spotlight of the world’s press – was going to stop him from finishing his 10,000m. Ted Cruz had no choice but to make his speech against the backdrop of that oh-so-familiar whooshing sound. OK, so his technique might leave a little to be desired, but Rowing Dude, we salute you. Iowa should be proud.

With thanks to Jon Ward for the tweet that brought us Rowing Dude.

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I always knew the Monmouth women were a fierce and fabulous bunch of women. What I didn’t realise, even after several years at the club, was quite how fierce and quite how fabulous. Until last week’s women’s squad Christmas party.

Christmas dinner 2

Fierce and fabulous Monmouth “ladies”

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The fourth and last in this year’s series of gift guides. You’ve already had suggestions for women rowers, coxes and juniors, and now it’s time for the men. Apprently a box of crystallised fruit left over from last year isn’t enough to keep them happy – fussy or what? – so here’s the ultimate gift guide for male rowers that is sure to make them truly contented.

Christmas gifts for male rowers

1. Chia energy gels by 33Shake, £1.99

These are a far cry from the standard energy gel which has an unfortunate consistency that… ewww… I can’t even… These, by contrast, have a bit of texture and crunch, and are super good for you. They have no artificial ingredients and are low GI – great for winter training (and summer training for that matter – I used them both for marathon training and at regattas this summer). He may, of course, use their extreme healthiness as an excuse for another mince pie but that, I’m afraid, is your problem and not mine.

2. A Gentleman and a Sculler mug, by Rowperfect, £24

Nice chunky mug and a slogan that made me smile (and there aren’t many rowing puns that I actually find amusing). Just be sure that he is actually a sculler. I’m far too polite to pass comment on the gentleman bit.

3. Oar Wars T-shirt, by Godfrey, £18

There’s a strong likelihood he’s secretly into Star Wars, especially if he is of, cough, a certain age. I’m reliably informed that there’s a whole generation of men deeply and permanently affected by seeing Carrie Fisher in that metallic bikini at an impressionable age. And now there’s a new film out (and not one of the terrible prequels) it’s OK for him to go public with it.

4. Floating sunglasses, by Rapid Eyewear, £21.25

I can’t be the only rower whose sunglasses have ended up at the bottom of the river during a fast and furious piece (or, less impressively, whilst removing layers). These, brilliantly, will stay afloat if you drop them into the river. And they’re cool enough to make him feel like a boss (even if he doesn’t row like one).

5. GoPro Hero4, by GoPro, £409.99

This is the daddy of action cameras. It really is the business for filming rowing and captures footage in video format as well as stills and burst. The quality is superb, there are plenty of options for attaching it to different bits of the boat and there’s internal wifi for him to transfer the footage straight to his phone. Two things to be aware of, by the way. First, you’ll need to spend extra on the various mounts. And secondly, be warned that if his rowing’s not up to scratch the camera never lies. Just saying.

As for me, I made my own Christmas list public a couple of years ago, and it still holds good. No, really, you’re too kind.

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You might think that because the youngster in your life has a passion for rowing, they’ll be easy to buy for. All you need to do is get them something – anything – with rowing on it. Or canoeing, ‘cos that’s basically the same thing, right?

STOP RIGHT THERE. You need help, and fast. Just because someone is a rower doesn’t mean they find rowing jokes huh-larious. And especially not if those jokes are printed on a cheap Café Press mug or T-shirt. Your poor junior could end up looking properly ridiculous down at the boat club with your ill-chosen gift – assuming, that is, they feel obliged to wear it so as not to hurt your feelings.

Mercifully for you, I’m here to guide you with my Christmas gift guide for juniors – five ideas your young rower will actually thank you for. Oh, and if you feel like lobbing a rigger jigger into the bottom of their stocking as well, they won’t mind a bit, as someone nicked theirs at the last head. Fact.

Christmas gifts for juniors

1) Callus Quench, by Dermalicious, £6.84

I don’t know if you’ve glanced at your junior’s hands lately, but the chances are they’re in a horrible state. And if they end up on a rowing camp this year, they’ll only get worse. This stuff, which I reviewed a few months ago, is the absolute business for healing their hurty hands. Just don’t buy them gloves to wear on the river. Please, just don’t.

2. Square Blades T-shirt, by Square Blades, from £15.99

Square Blades specialise in high quality, varsity-style T-shirts, hoodies and accessories for both men and women. Juniors seem to love them, and so do I. The logos are nicely understated, nodding in the direction of rowing without resorting to bad jokes or puns. Definitely a good bet.

3. Customised rowing necklace or cuff links, by Becky Button, from £10 (depending on design)

Becky (a rower as well as a jewellery-maker) can make you a laser-cut, acrylic necklace or cuff links with any club’s blade on it, just like this one she did for me. Brilliant, totally different and just rowing-y enough without being too tried-for. Best to get on the case quickly, though, if you want to be in time for Christmas. Click on the “request custom order” icon on Becky’s site.

4. Clean Bottle, from Amazon, £10.99

I’d be willing to lay money on there being at least one stinking, mouldy bottle lurking in your junior’s kit bag. This genius bottle will make cleaning – and drying – that skanky bottle a realistic prospect. It unscrews at both ends and is BPA-free so you can scrub it in hot water and have it dry by the next day. If it gets really revolting, you can even run it through the dishwasher. Best of all, it doesn’t leak – important when it’s kicking around a bag and a boat yet surprisingly rare in a water bottle – and you can drink from it one-handed. I’ve had mine for several years and won’t use anything else on the water.

5. Summer rowing course at Imperial College, London (2016 prices TBC; 2015 prices were from £475 non-residential, £600 residential)

Imperial does summer courses for juniors (14-18) and by all accounts they are excellent. They cover rowing and sculling and have lots of off-water seminars on things like nutrition and fitness. You won’t just be giving your young rower a leg-up in rowing terms – I’m told these courses are a lot of fun, too.

So now you’ve got Christmas sorted, all you need to worry about is getting through the festive season without coming to blows, but I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.

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If you have a coxswain in your life, it’s a safe bet that life is never dull. It’s amazing how much personality – and volume – you can pack into a tiny frame. All that sass and shoutiness needs to be regularly rewarded with generous gifts, though. This is where I come in. Here’s my exceptionally well-informed Christmas gift guide for coxes. You’re welcome.

Christmas gifts for coxes

1. Cox box, from OarSport, from £465

I’m going to go right out there with the extravagant present first, because let’s face it, this would make your cox JUST. SO. HAPPY. No more fighting over the best cox box. No more last-minute panics before a race when someone has swapped the cox box your pint-sized wonder had so carefully selected with the crappy one everybody KNOWS has a dodgy connection. Be aware, though, that if you are going to splash out on a cox box, you’ll need lots of extras like a perfectly-fitting headset, a case and a charger, but hey, that sorts out the aunties and uncles who are looking for suggestions.

Note: this is probably not a gift for a novice cox, by the way. All the gear and no idea, etc..

2. Event torrential jacket, from Crewroom, £199

There is nothing more miserable than getting wet when you’re coxing, but the problem with most fully waterproof kit is that it’s either ugly or sweaty or both. This jacket – also available for women – is waterproof but also breathable and pretty nice looking. Consider sizing up to give them room for the 15 layers they’ll need to wear underneath on a chilly day.

3. Classic bum bag, from Gaynor Sports, £15 (currently reduced to £9.99)

Most rowers have no idea how many bits and pieces coxes carry around, especially on race day. You’re expected to produce, at a moment’s notice, any of the following (in addition to your race number, course map and weight certificate): rigger jigger, washers, safety pins, plasters, hair elastics, tissues, sweets, lip balm, painkillers… and so it goes on. A decent bum bag is essential. This one is considerably more attractive than most (and you can get it in a larger size if you have a really conscientious cox who considers my list to be just entry level).

4. Sheepskin wellies, by Thorn & Field, £92

A cold cox is an unhappy cox, and you’ll know, if you share your life with a coxswain, how bad an unhappy cox is for everybody concerned. These beauties will make her (and with this one it’s probably going to be her rather than him) warm and, consequently, sweet and delightful. Obviously not for wearing in the boat (you do know that, coxes, don’t you?) but off the water it’s a different story. Imagine her skipping happily around on race day, with her feet dry and warm and comfortable. Worth every penny.

5. Waterproof gloves, by Sealskinz, £35 (reduced to £17.50 until midday on 9th December)

These are on my own Christmas list, as it happens, as I consider them to have all the properties of a perfect coxing glove. Waterproof. Breathable. Windproof. Thin enough to feel the wires. A bit of grip. Even touchscreen-friendly fingers. I’ve been faffing around with inadequate gloves for a while now and have become convinced of the need to upgrade. If your pocket rocket already has great gloves, I’m sure pretty much anything on the Sealskinz site would do instead. It’s all fab.

So that’s the presents for your miniature dynamo sorted. And if he or she goes nuclear this Christmas, at least it won’t be the fault of the gifts.

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Makeover

After four years of blogging from the river it’s time for a bit of a revamp at Girl on the River, not least because I’m aware this site isn’t mobile-friendly, so it’s off to the drawing board.

As in any good relationship, though, I won’t do anything drastic without consulting you first. So I need your thoughts on how far I should take my makeover. I could just go for a bit of botox and tweezering with a new-but-similar theme, tweaked to work nicely on your phone or iPad.

Or I could go all out with the full facelift – a major plastic surgery job. New graphics, revamped design, different layout.

So tell me how you want me to look. Do you like the traditional, linear, scroll-down-from-post-to-post thang? Or shall I be a little more daring and consider a fancy-schmancy layout with cool, zoomy pics you click on and stuff (can you see I know very little about web design)?

What do you think of the colour scheme? It’s quite… rivery… is that still good?

And here’s a crazy idea. What about a different heading with *gasp* a logo or a cartoon or something way out like that?

Tell me what you think. Tell me what other blogs you like the look of. Be honest. And, like in any good relationship, I will listen earnestly and then quite possibly do my own thing.

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Stormont in the rain - cropped

Belfast – in the rain, naturally

If there’s one thing surprises people more than finding out I’m a rower, it’s discovering that I’m from Belfast. I’ve pretty much lost the accent after many years on the other side of the Irish Sea, but I’m still a Belfast girl through and through. I grew up thinking Samson and Goliath were giant cranes rather than biblical characters, to say nothing of believing that indoor fireworks were cool. Seriously. I even caused my very own bombscare in P6 when I left my shoe bag outside school (that’s not actually the reason why I left the country, but I’m pretty sure I’m still in trouble for it).

The fact is, though, that I don’t get back to my home town very often, so when Belfast Rowing Club invited me to be the guest speaker at their annual dinner, I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. Even the fact that it clashed with the Vets Fours Head wasn’t enough to put me off. No Sophie’s Choice this time – it was a no brainer, and my mum and dad were pretty thrilled that the Prodigal Daughter was coming home. So it was on with the BRC colours – oh, and of course the red shoes.

And what a great decision it turned out to be. I couldn’t have had a warmer welcome or a better evening (and in a weirdly symbolic twist the food was even catered by the Fatted Calf). The women’s squad pretty much adopted me as one of their own, and I made a whole bunch of new rowing best friends.

My new rowing BFF, the ladies' vet squad

My new rowing BFF, the ladies’ vet squad

So either they're freakishly tall or I'm freakishly small. Oh...

So either they’re freakishly tall or I’m freakishly small. Oh…

If that weren’t enough, the club even presented me with this intricately stunning, hand-made pen which is now right up there with my most treasured possessions (alongside that pot and that medal).

Look!!!

Look!!!

With aforementioned club colours

With aforementioned club colours

There is one bit of unfinished business, though. Despite earnest claims from the floor that there were one or two BRC rowers who could actually shake it on the dance floor (as opposed to just thinking they could), the promised video evidence has not been forthcoming. So there’s nothing for it but a return visit next time BRC are strutting their stuff.

Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you, BRC, for a fantastic evening (and for making my mum and dad very happy). You rock. Even, possibly, on the dance floor. But until I see for myself, I leave you with this. Judge for yourselves…

 

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happy place

Picture by Kate Czuczman

It all started, bizarrely, with bees. I’d sent an idea about bee therapy to Top Sante magazine. “No thanks,” they replied, “but would you like to write an article about tantric sex instead?” Well, I’m never one to turn away work, so before I knew it I was searching the scarier reaches of the internet for wisdom about all things tantra.

What I discovered, to my surprise, was that it was as much about philosophy as it was about marathon sex sessions. A lot of it overlapped with mainstream mindfulness. It was about living in the moment and enjoying the journey rather than obsessing over the goal. Not a bad approach for life in general, I thought.

My chance to put it to the test came, unexpectedly, on a weekend retreat in Cornwall when I took to a surfboard for the first time in three years (and only the fourth time in my life). And being a goal-orientated kind of girl, I applied my usual ferocity to getting up on my feet.

I tried…

Falling with style 3

Picture by Kate Czuczman

and I tried…

Falling with style 2

Picture by Kate Czuczman

and I tried…

Falling with style

Picture by Kate Czuczman

But no matter how hard I tried, I seemed to end up face first in the surf.

Which was when I remembered tantra. Maybe, I reflected, as I disappeared once more into a wave, I needed to rethink this. To stop fixating on the perfect pop-up and enjoy the ride.

So I did. I relaxed. I laughed. I started to have some fun.

I never said it was flattering...

Needless to say, it was at that moment that I finally made it to my feet. Not very stylishly, admittedly – I don’t do cool, more’s the pity – but I was, at least, above the waves and not under them.

Up!

Picture by Kate Czuczman

But what’s all this got to do with rowing? Well, having looked at some unforgiving frame-by-frame footage of my rowing from a recent outing, what most struck me was the angst. As the lightest of lightweights, I’ve applied myself to my technique with the same, grim-faced, white-knuckled fury that I was applying to my surfing, straining every sinew to perfect the catch and slow the slide. So tightly-wound have I been that I’m currently invalided out with a bad back and dodgy shoulder which, my osteopath tells me, is the direct result of my tense, hunched posture in the boat.

So once I get back on the water, I’m going to be taking the tantric approach to my rowing. I’ll make a piont of relaxing a bit more. Grimacing a bit less. Enjoying the ride, even. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I’ll achieve the goal I’m after while I’m looking the other way…

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