Pocock on planting the blade

After my recent introduction to the flip catch, and my subsequent enlightenment that many people intentionally row like that, I dug a little deeper and stumbled on this quote from legendary rowing coach Stan Pocock:

“The common misconception of planting the blade in the water before driving on it with the legs is a very dangerous one.”

Flipping hell, what a dangerous life I’ve been trying to lead. There’s more:

“The blade begins to feather only as it enters the water… The blades have to be down as close to the water as possible and the most effective way of doing this is to keep the blade feathered until the instant that the legs apply the pressure… The proper leg drive is to have the blade tight to the water so that the initial blade movement is caused by the legs“, adds Stan.

Stan Pocock is narrating a video entitled BladeBoatBody in which Frank Cunningham, Charley McIntyre and a couple of unnamed scullers demonstrate in single sculls.

The video footage was uploaded by ‘2 Goofs RC’ earlier this year (thank you, goofs), though I think it was recorded in 1985. I found it mesmerising (not least because of Stan’s mellifluous tones). 

As Charley McIntyre demonstrates keeping the blades close to the water, Stan Pocock says:

“See how the blade sneaks into the water, because of the drive of the legs. There’s no putting the blade in and then driving on it—it’s driven in to the water. And the water is helping to square the blades so that, while there is a certain amount of loss, it’s minimum, far less than if one waves the blade in the air first before planting it in the water.”

I am reminded of another legendary rowing coach, Harry MahonAn early entry of the blades was a hallmark of Harry’s crews. A friend who was coached by Harry said to me that “you take the catch with your feet”, which at first seemed ludicrous… until I thought about it and paid attention to it in the boat, feeling the pressure of the water against the blade through my feet.

Letting the water help square/feather the blade is new to me; I don’t think I have ever done this intentionally. Here’s Stan again:

“As the lower edge of the blade catches the water, it’s almost automatically turned to a pulling position as the pressure of the legs continues, and there’s been a minimum amount of vertical motion in the process… Properly done, this stroke is greatly aided by the water itself, in turning the blade at the release and at the catch. Timed properly, the push away of the hands causes the water to push against the back of the blade and lay it over as the recovery is begun. ”

I am left with a few niggling questions:

  • Why doesn’t everyone row like this? Is there anyone currently sculling this way at world championship level, someone we can watch and learn from?
  • Is it applicable to sweep rowing as well as sculling?
  • Does it work as effectively with cleaver blades?

Stan and crew cover a lot more ground in this video, including:

  • vertical motion – very bad
  • stern check – bad
  • cutting the stroke short by not rotating the shoulders – “one of the dangers”
  • thinking you are moving the oar through the water – “common misconception”
  • wrists – the weakest link
  • backsplash – too much is bad
  • bouncing legs at the finish (losing connection with foot-stretcher)
  • rocking back after the legs are already fully down (serves only to drive the boat down into the water) 
  • shooting the slide
  • ‘bucking over the oar’ (not using the shoulders/arms at the end of the drive)
  • stability during the recovery
  • hands – position, relaxation.

PS Here in FrankCharlie (1985) is the raw footage without Stan Pocock’s narration. I think it’s amazing that these guys captured this on video more than 30 years ago:


On a final note for 2017, thank you for reading, sharing and commenting on my blog. I hope that every so often you find something useful and/or interesting that helps you row better. Happy New Year and happy rowing.


6 thoughts on “Pocock on planting the blade

  1. I see this was posted in 2017. Thanks you for your thorough research into this technique. I love it even though I seem to be stuck in the intermediate scullers level for years. Tom


    1. Thanks for the feedback, Tom. I appreciate you taking the time. I thought it was fascinating and love that others find it interesting too. I would call myself intermediate too but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, slowly figuring things out, chipping away at it. Where are you and are you able to get on the water these days? Mary.


  2. I can appreciate these men and how advanced they were for the time. I worked with Frank many mornings on this technique and have moved away from it for some reason. 😦
    Thanks for sharing these video’s with us.


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