There’s nothing quite as daunting as being the new kid at school. Clutching your pristine school bag, looking warily at the sea of unfamiliar faces, you long for things to start feeling normal and to fit in as quickly as you can.
It’s the same for the newbies at rowing clubs up and down the country – and my goodness, there are a lot of you just now. If you are one of those new rowers, welcome to the club. You probably have no idea what you’ve just let yourself in for, and I’m guessing you’ve got a fair dose of the new boy/girl jitters. So to help you settle in, here’s a handy set of top tips for every novice rower.
Wearing the wrong stuff is a sure fire way of getting noticed… for all the wrong reasons. There are sound practical reasons why rowers dress the way they do (honest to God, we don’t actually like lycra) – loose and baggy clothes might be grungily hip but you’ll get your hands caught in them and that is Definitely Not Cool.
Girl on the River fans will know that I have strong views on What Not to Wear – which is all very well, and it’s wise to be warned, but what should you wear?
Well, don’t go crazy, says the lovely Di from Rock the Boat – the go-to place, incidentally, for rowing apparel and accessories.
“They should not buy too much kit (me a kit seller!)”, she says, “and should definitely not go for replica GB squad kit … that has to be earned! They need tight leggings (winter), tight shorts (summer) to avoid getting caught in the slide, a couple of tight fitting tops, a warm top, a hat and plenty of socks. If they love the sport then there is tons of technical kit they can buy later – but we want to hook them into the sport first!”
All I’d add to that is the vexed subject of footwear. You’re likely to need to wade out into the water at some point. If you go for wellies, check them for leaks before you splash out into the river (I speak from damp and highly unpleasant experience). And in the summer, be wary of flipflops – they have a habit of folding over on to themselves just as you’re walking down the ramp with an expensive boat on your shoulder. Crocs are permissible (and much safer than flipflops), but you must promise me faithfully that you will wear them only between boathouse and river. Do not under any circumstances be seen out and about in them. They are a crime against fashion and that’s all there is to it.
A lot of novice rowers are worried about this issue, and with good reason. Talk to any rower for longer than a couple of minutes and they’re sure to start telling you about their latest erg-torture or full-on weights session.
Relax. Nobody expects newcomers to be superfit straight away. If your club sets you a training programme, stick to it. If you’re left to your own devices, it’s probably a good idea to ask someone senior in the club for advice. Cross training is great for overall fitness (and avoiding injury) and most competitive rowers do a combination of training on the water (the best option of all), weights, maybe some cardio such as running or cycling and, of course, the dreaded erg. You’ll have to accept that the erg will become a part of your life whether you like it or not (I’d guess not) and the sooner you come to terms with it, the better.
Don’t try to avoid them by wearing gloves (and no, I admit I don’t always practise what I preach when the temperatures drop below zero). Some of them will morph miraculously into callouses. In the meantime, some rowers swear by soaking them in hot, salty water; others apply black tea bags. Really, though, you just have to man up… and enjoy showing them to your more squeamish friends.
OK, so the standard advice in this situation is, “be yourself”. But when you’re new to a club and new to a sport, it can be easy to get off on the wrong footing, so I’m not going to take any chances. You may of course be marvellously easy-going and gregarious, but it’s worth having a few pointers.
Don’t beat yourself up if you find rowing harder than you expected. Everybody finds it difficult; even elite rowers have to practise endlessly, and most rowers obsess to an unhealthy degree about the faults in their technique. If you make mistakes and people seem to be getting irritated with you, keep your head. It’ll be their turn soon enough.
Conversely, don’t be cocky. If you find that you’re picking it up more quickly than everybody else in your crew, this does not make you a better person. You may also find that others suddenly catch up with you; everyone learns at a different pace.
Don’t be too quick to judge fellow club members. The person you thought was rude might just be shy. The one who seemed bossy and overbearing might be compensating for a lack of confidence. Clubs are a glorious mix of the weird and the wonderful, so give everyone a chance.
It’s a club, so there will be politics. Don’t get involved. If you hear people gossiping, walk away. Don’t bad-mouth anybody. Be willing to muck in. If your club needs help on regatta day (and they will), do your bit.
And finally… remember to enjoy it. Rowing is a beautiful sport. It might not always love you back, but once it’s found its way into your heart it’ll be there forever.