RowingRelated and Potomac Boat Club Present: The American Club Rowing Experience, a Series

The American Club Rowing Experience (Photo: Lauren Schumer)

The following is the first in a new series on the experience of post-collegiate club rowing in the United States, one of the more under-appreciated—and yet perhaps the most historically significant—forms of American rowing. The series will examine a number of different factors, from balancing 'real life' with a rowing career, to building intra-club and inter-club culture, to preparing for international competition—that is, Henley Royal Regatta.

Below is the first installment, thanks to Peter Clements of Potomac Boat Club in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the Club: A Modern Club Rower's Manifesto

Erging became cool at some point between June 2nd, 2015 and March 2nd, 2016. Between Colin McCabe’s 5:39.4 making it to YouTube, and the creation of the (ironic..... or is it?) Fat Ergos Instagram.

That has had an effect on masters rowing as well.

For example: Maybe you were rowing at a nominally "masters" level for a few years since college, and always caught weird looks for trying to sneak in extra afternoon sessions, or do 20ks; maybe, in the past, jokes about the beer tent, and weight-adjusting our erg scores, and getting cute with age averages had always been what was considered cool at that level.

But then, suddenly, pulling hard was cool, and not pulling hard was suddenly uncool. Around this time maybe you noticed a lot of so-called "masters" stopped thinking of themselves as, well, whatever "masters" means, and instead started thinking of themselves as simply "rowers."

If you’re going to start asking questions like, "why are we racing a shorter distance?," and embrace hard work for hard work's sake, and decide that the suffering and the grind and the frustration are all 'cool,' then the question becomes, simply, how fast can a club crew go?

This article will be the first of many to try to answer that question.

Bending pine (or now, carbon fiber), and pushing your limits after college, and actively rejecting the notion that you can't keep getting faster feels pretty good, too. Speed orders, trials, and national team aspirations aren't for everyone, and putting grad school or a full-time career on the back burner while spending time away from family—or putting off starting one—is not a sacrifice everyone can, or should, make. God bless those so dedicated to 'The Dream' that they do make it.

Pull up the results from Independence Day Regatta, or USRowing Club Nationals, or Canadian Henley, and do your best to subtract the summer, collegiate programs. (These summer programs are great, and serve a purpose, but putting trophies in the trophy room isn't the same as wearing divots into the stairwells.) We're talking the real club experience and identity—something closer to the old-school notion of the Amateur Oarsman, of "Kelly for Brickwork," and of "nasty-ass Vesper oarsmen" winning the men's eight in Tokyo over half a century ago. People that graduated from college, and continued to push their limits; continued to pursue boat speed, pure and simple.

It's not a crazy idea.

Go to England, and look at Head of the River, or Metropolitan Regatta, or Wallingford results. Molesey Boat Club, Thames Rowing Club, Upper Thames, London, Tideway Scullers, etc.—these are not "masters" teams, though some of them have a healthy age spread (and of course, there are veterans races in the UK as well). And while some of that old-school club identity and development has given way to the gravitational pull of a centralized national team training center, there are still many oarsmen competing at a high level who are full-time bankers and attorneys (ok, barristers) and grad students and everything else under the sun (ok, fog).

There are rivalries and traditions that go back nearly two centuries—rivalries that have nothing to do with weight-adjusted ergs, or age limits. Instead, they're based on what they've always been based on: Who crosses the line first.

The view from the boat bay, PBC (Photo: Hannah Wagner Photography)

So, you're a serious, post-collegiate rower, and you want to make a point about your club? Show everyone how good and tough and bold its members are? Show everyone your lawyers and bankers and teachers and doctors never gave up the grind, and if anything are older, wiser, fitter, faster, and hitting it harder than ever before, or certainly harder than those other guys are?

Good news—there's already a proving ground. It's been there since 1839.

You’re going to Henley Royal Regatta.

-Peter Clements

Coming up next week: What makes Henley Royal Regatta so different, so special, as compared to other races on the circuit, from the club rowing perspective. Note: This series will be regularly published on Tuesdays between now and 2018 Henley Royal Regatta.


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