Learning to Row with Capital Rowing Club


I’m back!

It’s been three weeks since I last blogged about a crash and I am so excited to share what I’ve been up to. Every Saturday and Sunday in April and part of May, I am crashing the Learn to Row program with the Capital Rowing Club. I always regretted not joining the hordes of freshman who tried out for the Georgetown team in college. Mostly because I love being on the water, but also because I’m a sucker for early morning practices, endurance sports, and awkward tan lines.

Since then, every time I run, bike, or drive by the Potomac and see boats on the water, I think, “huh, that looks fun. Too bad I missed my shot.”

Well my friends…turns out I didn’t miss my shot after all.


See the chick in the white hat? The one who looks like she’s trying not to freak out about the boat tipping over into the Anacostia river? That’s me! But before I share the excitement about rowing with real oars in a real boat on a real river, let’s start at the beginning of the class.

Day One



The first weekend of class focused on two things: (1) familiarization with the boathouse and equipment and (2) learning proper rowing technique. That translates roughly into (1) learning how to not break all of the expensive things hanging in the boathouse and (2) learning to love the erg.

Day One


The first day of class, we learned all the basic ins and outs of the rowing stroke. The powerful catch, strong finish, and slow recovery. There was a lot of lingo and technique thrown at us at once, but as with anything, the best way to learn is to just do. And do we did.


We were lucky to have a volunteer coach set up his machine in front of ours so we could follow along and mimic his movements. Some of the students had never been on an erg before and were getting used to the awkward pulling/sliding/whirling of the machine. Others had some familiarity, but were learning to incorporate all of the new details. It definitely took a lot of concentration to break the stroke down and then fit the pieces back together. Let’s just say I’m three weeks into the class and still struggling to smooth things out.


For the second half of class, we each grabbed an oar and headed down to the dock. The oars are made of carbon fiber and extremely light. This is great when you have to carry a few at a time.


This is not great when holding them upright like in this picture and then a big gust of wind comes. Hilarity and panic ensued. Lesson learned!


These big, funny looking boats are called barges – the training wheel equivalent for rowers. They’re enormously stable and allow newbies like us to get a feel for being in a boat and using oars without the risk of tipping. I have to admit, I couldn’t have cared less if these weren’t real rowing boats. To actually be on the water on the first day of class was a huge win in my book. Sure we were tethered to the dock, but we were floating!

Day Two


We spent the second day building off of what we learned on the first. My Learn to Row class has about 30 people in it, so we often have to break into groups and rotate stations. I started off on the erg doing some drills and practicing my technique. It was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day and I felt so lucky to be out in the fresh air and on the water.


Next, I moved down to the dock to learn now to successfully navigate a rowing shell. This included practicing how to place the oars in the oar locks (without falling into the water), figuring out where you can and cannot stand on the boat, and bending like a pretzel to delicately plop down into the seat.


The boat is much narrower than I had anticipated and lacks the stability of the barge. In other words, it rocks in the water and felt like it would tip over at any minute. So leaning across the boat to hook up the oars for the first time was something I did while holding my breath. *omgpleasedon’tflipover* And getting in that tiny boat? Well, that took mustering some nerve, closing my eyes, and praying that all the hundreds of squats I’ve done in my lifetime would somehow help me land gently into my tiny seat.


Not pictured: practicing how to get the boat out of the water and back into the boathouse. If I thought getting in and out of the boat itself was nerve wracking, this was sedation-worthy. Here we were, day two, a pack of total novices…being trusted with carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment over our heads. Mercy me.


Day two ended with a session in the barge. This time we actually pushed off from the dock and took some real strokes. It was organized chaos as everyone tried to translate what we learned on the erg. And then we had to figure out how to do that in sync with everyone else in the boat.


Did we go very far? No, in fact, we went in circles. Did we look like complete novices and something out of a bad summer camp movie? Absolutely. But it was enormously fun and we were having a great time.


And that was our first week! It was a firehose of information, but we had a lot of time to practice and really were making strides by day two. An enormous thank you and Fit Crasher shout out to the volunteers and coaches who come out each weekend to help with the beginner rowing program. They have the patience of a saint and really take the time to teach us everything we need to know.

Stay tuned for more adventures from weekend two!


  1. Elena April 29, 2013 / 7:58 pm

    That was an intense weekend! It turned out we were on the barges and everything together so I can attest to everything your saying. So much fun but what a workout! I was sore in muscles I didn’t know I had!!

    • DC Fit Crasher April 30, 2013 / 3:51 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and saying hello Elena – having lots of fun rowing with you!

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