What sounds like a great idea on a sunny Friday afternoon does not seem to be so brilliant in the cold grey dawn of a Sunday morning. Then, it seems like insanity.
Firstborn son and I hit the road and headed off to Hartebeespoort Dam at sparrow’s fart on Sunday morning to join my cousins, Tim and Wendy, for a morning of rowing.
Family is a strange and fascinating enigma. Something happens when you’re together and time and age disappears. The cousin who once bribed me with Caramello Bears now bribed me with me coffee to get me back on the water post my near-death experience.
Aside: I know I was really nowhere near death, but it doesn’t make a good story. Good stories are told when the truth is given scope – and scope I shall give it.
For me coffee and rowing are inseparable. They cannot be rowing without coffee. Lots and lots of coffee pots. Cousin Tim and Wendy have an innate understanding born of genetics and rowing that I was clearly not moving my ass until I’d had coffee.
Now, firstborn son was rather apprehensive about rowing me – an apprehension I shared since for some reason I cannot row a damn in front of him. I crack under the pressure of wanting to impress him. Nonetheless we waded into the cold and seated ourselves in an open water double.
My first-time in an open water boat and what a pleasure! It’s wide and comfy and stable! Also, it didn’t have those stupid shoes I hate, but velcro straps instead. So, no panic stricken foot claustrophobia.
Firstborn son is an amazing coach. He was utterly patient, brilliantly insightful and gave me not an inch. He made me practice techniques over and over, forced my back straight, kept me in rhythm and never made me feel like an idiot. (If only we could bring this attitude home, where like every mother of every teenager ever, I am the most stupid person alive!)
Also, his sense of humour slays me. If it wasn’t for the open water boat design I would have capsized from laughing so hard. I can’t wait to row with him again.
There are some unpleasant truths about rowing no-one speaks of. I suppose they’re considered taboo, but once you’re out there they will at some point need to be dealt with. I spent much of my recovery time asking the hard questions.
FARTING: All that core holding expels gas – backwards – into the face of the poor sap behind you. You can try to hold it in, but it will get harder and harder and eventually hot air must rise. The trick is to wait until you’ve got speed up and hope the cloud of methane swirls around you and dissipates rapidly on either side of your head without asphyxiating you.
PEEING: All that coffee! Firstborn informs me that when nature comes calling, the crew either pees off the side or just jumps into the water and leaps back in like a floundering salmon. Neither works for me, so here the trick is to pee before you get on the water.
NEWTON’S 3RD LAW: You need to know and absorb this one. It may seem awesome to test your race pace up the river for 2kms, but know this – you will have to come back down again. My approach is to take it slow up the course and race pace it down so you at least can get back to dry land without dying.
TIPPING: Having discovered this unpleasantness I can say with absolute sincerity, do not take anything with you in the boat you can’t afford to see sink. Even if you have your phone in a little plastic baggy you could well watch it sink into the netherworld, so rather leave it behind.
CREW: Row with a cool crew. You need to trust and respect the folks in the boat. You need to be able to laugh, have fun and enjoy yourself. There is absolutely no point setting yourself adrift with people you even mildly dislike. And despite all men (and women) being created equal, a crew is not a democracy – follow the damn stroke!
Tim and Wendy are off soon to the 2017 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Slovenia, which looks incredible! As well as being brilliant cousins they also make coastal and recreational rowing sculls.
They’ve been rowing since forever and have represented South Africa internationally and won many national titles in various boats at various levels and currently are active oarsmen (oarspeople?)
Good luck guys and thanks for having us over!