Cross-wind wobbles

Lining up a single scull in a cross-wind is something I am figuring out the hard way.

My very first race in the single was at Kawana on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in 2013—the venue for this year’s Australian Masters Championships in June.

Kawana is renowned for being windy and the prevailing south-easterly cuts across the course. The situation is exacerbated by the concrete retaining walls all along the perimeter which cause the wash to bounce back and forth.

Up at the start, I remember feeling like a little piece of gnocchi bobbing in a pot of boiling water. There didn’t seem to be any pattern to the way the water was moving. I had a serious case of the wobbles and was as relaxed as an iron rod. Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind, they say… hmmm.

Then, just as we were lined up (no held starts), the umpire instructed us to get off the course because there was a 2 km race coming down.

I went into a little alcove on the right thinking it was a safe harbour, and sat there for a minute, trying to gather myself. A quick glance behind me and I saw that I was inches from the concrete wall. This is where I learnt, really quickly, how to back a scull.

I should’ve kept my back to the wind so that I could keep an eye on where it was blowing me. I got out of jail.


Heart still racing, I heard the (gr)umpire yelling: “5, get back out here! You’re the last one out on the course!” Such empathy. Luckily the wind carried my profanities in the other direction.

What a great way to start a race—totally rattled.

After that it was bang, bang, chitty-chitty-bang-bang, all the way down the course as I whacked the once-white but now mostly invisible buoys left, right and centre, finishing last, but finishing all the same.

Whenever its windy now, my catchphrase is: “It’s not as bad as Kawana!”

I’m always looking for tips on rowing in a cross-wind but, so far, this is all I’ve come up with:

  • Get out there and practise in the wind.
  • While waiting to be called to the start line, point your bow into the wind.
  • Come on to the start line with your boat pointing at an angle such that, allowing for the cross-wind, it will stay in your lane. Tricky. A bit of guesswork is required.
  • If you’re blown onto the buoys before the umpire even starts the race, um… good luck.
  • As you’re rowing, try to imagine it’s not windy. La-la-la.
  • Relax. “Should a wave hit your blade anyway, ensure to be sufficiently relaxed in your arms so that the impact won’t be transferred to your upper body, thereby completely knocking you off balance.” (Sculling without tears).
  • Relax those muscles that are idle (if you can find any) to increase the flow of blood through them.
  • Practise the sideways stability exercise recommended by Rowing Australia. The aim is to be able to move your pelvis from side to side independently of the spine.
  • Engage your core, says Pilates fan Andréanne Morin, in The art of rowing a pair in a crosswind. On an unsteady platform, “it seems that the tiny stabilizing muscles of the core are more solicited than the big quadriceps”.
  • If you’re anxious, that’s ok; so is everyone else. But Alain de Botton advises: don’t be anxious about being anxious.

I believe there will be held starts at the championships at Kawana this year. Hooray. And with any luck they’ll have scraped the barnacles off the umpires—buoys! I mean buoys!.

For coxwains, Ready All Row has some tips for steering in windy conditions.

If you have other tips, please feel free to share by adding a comment below.

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