• Coach Knickerbocker

Now What? Rowing in the C-19 Era


Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko from Pexels

I've noticed that my cohort of rowing technique and training experts/colleagues posting to social media have been quite prolific when it comes to discussions of fitness training, erg technique, and the like.


Certainly all of that is an extremely useful approach at this time. We rowers like to eat, drink, and sleep rowing, especially when we may not be able to actually row.


But there is one element that I have noticed has been strangely absent from our communal and socially distant conversations.


Allow me to pick up the slack and dive in.



We all know what the situation is now with regards to practices and regattas. They are not happening on the water, in any team oriented way. Granted there are teams out there that are doing group online erg workouts, remote fitness training, and participating in remote erg competitions as well.

That is all well and good and necessary, but what happens next?


The question is, how will this virus change the way we gather, practice, and compete?

What will be different in boathouses across the country? What about regattas?


Let's break this down into two categories:

A. Practicing/Boathouses

B. Racing/Regattas

C. Rower Responsibility



Practicing/Boathouses

When one begins to think about it, there are a myriad of ways that we operate in a boathouse that will need to change in order for all of us feel safe when it comes to COVID-19.


I think it behooves all of us to consider the responsibilities we have as team members, coaches, Program Directors, and Board Members to begin thinking about what the approach and new standards of operation will be in our boathouses post C-19. I mean let's face it, there is now a BC, Before COVID and an AC, After COVID.


To be clear I don't think there will actually be a "post" COVID-19 time. The virus is here, and from it's point of view, (please understand I do not wish to make fun of people's suffering but am merely trying to lighten things up a bit), it's partying like it's 1999.

Until a vaccine appears on the horizon we will need to adjust our patterns.


Oars, ergs, exercise equipment, rigging and derigging, tools, cox boxes, boats themselves are all possible conductor surfaces of the virus. So how do we approach having a system in place that will, when it's time, provide at least a minimum amount of health security and safety when it comes to our sport.


Hopefully everyone out there is, or was, wiping down community ergs after use and cleaning oar handles occasionally. I think it's obvious now that wiping down of oars will need to happen daily, or, you can do what one club did and assign a personal oar to each rower so only they use that oar. If you are as fortunate as this club to be able to do that in the first place then good on you, but if not, what is your plan for this ubiquitous piece of equipment that gets shared, sometimes, in some clubs, multiple times a day?


What about derigging and rigging your boats? Do you share tools? Are there community cox boxes that are used multiple times in a day by multiple teams in your boathouse? What about the towels that you use to wipe down your boats after practice? Gas cans, motor handles, safety equipment, I could go on but I think you understand my point.


Photo by Kseniia Ilinykh on Unsplash

What is your plan and how are you talking about this within the leadership of your club?


I'm asking the question because, again, I haven't seen this come up out there amongst all of the chatter about training, and the reminiscing of old racing videos, and the organization of remote online competitions.


I think if you are not having this discussion now, and beginning the logistical planning process of how these health and safety practices will occur, you are going to be putting this fire out a few days before in-person, multiple boat practices are planned. Certainly a recipe for disaster and disorganization.

Don't be that club.


My suggestion? Be proactive. Now.

Get as much information as you can about best practices. Gather the leadership of your club together and begin the process of having a forthright conversation about how best to approach getting your members back into group boats again.


What will it look like, what will you require members to do, will you need a portable handwashing station, how about hand sanitizer dispensers, what will be the system for oars, and all of the other flotsam and jetsam that participating in our sport require people to touch?


Your members will thank you for being as prepared as possible, and you will, at minimum, have the ammunition to answer the tidal wave of questions that will inevitably crash on your club's shore from your masters rowers, and, if you have them, parents of junior rowers.



Racing/Regattas

Much like the above regarding boathouses and practices, racing and regattas will require some forethought about how best to approach the event. Even after all of this calms down enough to allow even the consideration of having an event, the LOC will need to have appropriate practices in place to provide assurances to the athletes that they are safe.


Consider a regatta like the Head of the Charles or The San Diego Crew Classic, or any of the junior, collegiate, or masters championship regattas that occur across the country. Will event organizers hold off running these large regattas until there is a vaccine? I don't think it's completely out of the realm of possibility, but is there another solution that could facilitate the running of these iconic regattas while keeping people safe in the AC age?

BC age HOCR.

Not to put too fine a point on it but the HOCR is a little over 6 months away. I presume that the organizing committee that is the HOCR is already well into discussions of what this years regatta will look like, if it happens at all.



What will our governing body have to say? Will they come forward in a leadership capacity and suggest best practices for boathouses in the U.S.?

Will they present an online webinar perhaps that brings this specific topic up among the topics of training and racing?

Sorry to say, but I wouldn't hold my breath.


This is on local club leadership and all LOC's to step up and start squeezing those brain cells for bright ideas on how to move forward, once we get the ok to move forward.

If your club hosts any size or type of regatta it's time to start thinking thru what it will look like in this new era.



Rower Responsibility

Finally, it comes down to you, Rower.

That's great that your keeping up on your training, putting in those erg miles, getting in good cardio and listening to the latest podcast on strength training techniques.

No, I'm not being sarcastic.

Those are important and they help you to feel connected to your sport.


But, what are you doing to help the leadership in your club think about this not too distant moment when everyone returns to the boathouse ready to jump into boats? It's times like these when rowers should, ask not what your club can do for you, ask what you can do for your club... to coin a phrase.


Maybe you have special skills or resources that can bring a solution to one aspect of what is coming down the pike. Or maybe it would be helpful to the leadership if one was willing to do some research to see what other clubs are planning. In this particular case I think boathouses across the country could be having zoom sessions about the way forward. What it looks like or doesn't look like.


My point for you rower is to step up and not wait to get the email from the club letting you know when the first day back at the boathouse will be.

You can be proactive in how you approach your successful return to the boathouse and your fellow members as well.



Final Thoughts

I realize that many of you may have already been considering these questions and wrestling with them.

I also realize that it can be irritating to have someone throw a bunch of issues at you without a suggestion of how to possibly solve said issues.

So I apologize for introducing the irritant without providing the salve.

But nature abhors a vacuum and so I offer the question, "Now what?".

I'm just here to be the bug in your ear.

The itch you need to scratch.


Next Women's Team Meeting at the Boathouse

Get on it my friend.

Start preparing for the change that is a comin'.

Because here's the thing.

Everyone wants to row.

Everyone is missing sitting in the boat, and being on the water, and having that feeling of one really good stroke out of the hundreds taken.



If you can be the board member or program director or team captain that has, at least, a first attempt at a way to walk thru this, to get everyone back in the boat, to be on the water safely and with consideration for this AC era, you will be a rowing hero.


Not anything like those front line folks that I bow down to...but close enough for rowers.


Be well.

Stay safe.


Coach Knickerbocker

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