Club members race or row for leisure
Requiring intense synchronicity and trust between teams who move together on the water, rowing is quite a selfless sport. It’s also one of the most difficult.
The 100-plus members of Bay Area Rowing Club in Seabrook are a testament to the fact that their sport is not only one of the toughest in existence, it offers total-body exercise, team spirit, tenacity and discipline.
“It’s also addictive,” said Greg Wood, vice president and juniors coach of the rowing club. “If you’re a competitive person, it can get obsessive.”
Bay Area Rowing Club, established in 1988, was formed as a nonprofit. The club attended its first regatta in March 1989, purchased two, eight-shell boats a few months later and eventually built a floating dock in Clear Lake Park. A sculling clinic came next and more regattas followed. In April 1992, the club broke ground on its boathouse, which was completed in June 1993.
Today, the club is run by an eight-member board. Rowing boats divided by skill level are stacked floor-to-ceiling in the 40-by-80-foot boathouse. More commonly referred to as rowing shells, the boats consist of pairs, fours and eights (sweeps), and singles, doubles and quads (sculls).
Sweep rowing — one oar per person — is the typical rowing method and requires a coxswain, or steersman, who gives commands. Sculling — one person with two oars — is more popular in the club and does not require a coxswain.
The average length of a single is 24 to 27 feet, but an eight-man boat can measure nearly 60 feet. The widths can be as small as 18 to 20 inches. The boats are made of lightweight carbon fiber for speed and have built-in shoes, called stretchers, to keep the feet in place. The oars are 10 feet to 12.5 feet long, depend on whether you’re sculling or sweeping.
The club members mainly row on Mud Lake, a nature preserve in the Armand Bayou watershed. They row from sunup to sundown on and around Taylor Lake, Egret Bay, South Shore Harbour and Kemah, often venturing out a bit into the channel.
“About a third of the group participates in racing; the rest row for leisure,” Wood said. “We compete about 10 times a year and will have a big race April 11, to commemorate the first official regatta we held 25 years ago.”
The juniors begin at age 14, and some members are in their 80s.
As for health benefits, it’s the best low-impact sport you can ever do, Wood said.
“It works every single muscle in your body,” he said. “However, it’s 80 percent legs, because you’re sitting on a sliding seat with your feet locked in and your body pressed back.”
With so many dedicated members, there are several success stories at the rowing club. Helen Rose Tompkins, daughter of club member Theresa Tompkins, is hard at work training for the Olympics. She came in second in the 2013 World Rowing Championships held in Korea. Two other members plan next year to row across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Aruba.
When not on the water, Wood owns a woodworking shop and offers corporate leadership and teamwork training through rowing.
“When you put business executives into an eight-man boat, they learn the parallels between the rowing experience and the corporate world,” he said.