Rau: rowing tips
Grand County Trails
Last week I went over some tips for planning a raft trip. Funny thing how that same advice applies to hiking and backpacking trips, road trips and vacation trips of many kinds. Planning is such an important of any venture especially where there is no store to buy the things you forgot. Just winging it can be great when visiting an area where much is available and little is really needed. In other scenarios, that same winging it can be deadly.
Deciding what you want to do with your personal time is the hardest thing many young people face. Some people want to relax and just read a book. Some want to stress their bodies and see how far they can push. Some want to learn and see many new places and meet many new people. Some want to learn new skills and new sports.
Back to rowing a raft. First you can set up the boat as an oar boat or a paddle boat. Oar boat means the frame is set up so one person rows the boat and passengers down the stream or river. Usually for the uninitiated, this person is a guide for an outfitter to whom you pay money to know what they are doing, who you pay to use their equipment and safety gear, who you pay to be organized and explain this new fun thing to do and how to do it safely.
Then there are the private boaters who perhaps learned with their family or their friends. Each trip they learn new things and even acquire their own gear. They might try paddle boating where everyone gets a paddle and a guide or otherwise qualified person barks orders. Yes captain! all forward three strokes, left side back, and you missed that rock and went smoothly into the wave train bouncing up and down getting splashed.
Being a passenger and letting someone else row is the easiest of course. Then again, you might get to try the oars and see what you can do. Push forward up high and the boat goes forward in the direction you are pushing. Pull back up high and the boat goes backward. Simple eh? Then you can row pushing or pulling both hands together for more power. You can row bicycle style which is more rhythmic to some – I can go long distances alternating between both hands together for a few strokes followed by bicycle style for a few strokes. You can turn or spin by pulling one oar back and pushing the other forward. Let’s go in circles… so many combinations.
Some boats are outfitted with oars that are fixed on the frame at a certain angle by pins and clips and only allow the oar to enter the water at that angle. Some set-ups allow the oar to rotate so the rower can “feather” the oar to get different pressure on the water. It is usually easiest to learn with a smaller lighter boat and pins and clips. Start in easy water, mostly flat, and gradually start working around rocks or branches, water rushing into a curve or a wall, waves getting bigger and bigger from the sides of the river forcing the water together or flowing over rocks forming holes and, if deep enough, fun waves.
Now granted, this is a very simple explanation – nothing helps you more than just trying. But again, this is just like learning to ski or play golf. You have to learn a few basics first and then keep trying. Learn from someone who will let you make mistakes but tells you enough to keep all safe and keep the boat headed in the right direction. The more you do it, the better most people get. They learn that the current will push right or left depending on the river bottom or the river banks and obstacles in the water. That’s known as reading the water.
Men learn more what they can do with their power while women usually rely more on finesse – setting up correctly and reading the water. The best boatmen combine power and finesse with knowing your own boat and how it moves with respect to size and weight.
Angle of the boat is hugely important. If the boat is straight in the river, it is impossible to move sideways to avoid an obstacle. Yet if the boat is pointed across the river, it’s easy to move right or left. You can line up where you want to enter a rapid (most often where the water forms a tongue of smooth water) and then turn or spin the boat down into that tongue for a smooth entry. Some people will pull back against where the current is taking them, known as upstream ferry. That only slows you down and delays the inevitable. Downstream ferrying, ie. pulling backward with your back end downstream allows you to combine your force with the force of the water and move quicker and easier.
Nothing is simple. But friends can easily teach you these skills given the opportunity. Similar things apply to kayaks, inflatable kayaks, paddleboards, and even tubes. This is a great way to spend time with family and friends. But be safe, wear your life jacket and have a life jacket on your dog. Learn when the water is slow or kind. Let the experienced person do the job when water is high and fast. Keep a clear head, ready to react to problems – that usually means don’t drink too much or get too stoned. Be courteous and pack out your trash. You’ll be back soon to enjoy the water again and again, to say nothing of the scenery and camaraderie.
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