Regatta Ready

(c) Victoria Bruce

You’ve probably been to a regatta by now. Chances are that you took way too much or far too little. There is a balance between nothing and the kitchen sink. While your child is packing boats on trailers, you’ll find yourself doing much the same thing.

Another rowing mom shared her regatta ready plan with me (Tx Carla) and I’ve used it ever since. She bought a big black storage box on wheels. In it lived a cooler box, water bottles, chairs, hats, umbrellas, first aid and about a ton of sunscreen.

These days you can get a Jolly Trolley. If you’re in this for the long haul, invest in one. They’re better than my big black box on wheels, because they’re like a 4×4, they can handle any terrain. And there’s plenty of terrain. It doesn’t look so bad when you get there, but it seems to become more treacherous as the day goes on.

What to pack for your child

Sunscreen. Rowers seem to prefer the light, spray sunscreens that don’t make them feel oily. Try Everysun’s SPF 50 Sportx Sunscreen Invisi Aerosol Spray – this is the favourite of my lot because it’s easy to apply.

Put on your best parental take-no-prisoners voice in the morning and get your child to put on sunscreen everywhere before putting on a tri-suit. If they say that they’ll do it later, they will come home looking like Donald Trump. Not a good look. The glare coming off the water, even if it’s overcast, can roast a chicken in under an hour.

A camping chair. Your rower will sit with their crew and come off the water shattered. They need somewhere to relax and recover. Some schools only allow the Opens to have their own chairs, in which case send along a camping mat and a pillow.

A towel. Just in case. You never know. Also, if they have to have an ice-bath, they are going to need one.

Water. I used to cart along a 5 litre bottle, but now I just freeze a lot of 500ml bottles the night before. The water at Roodeplaat Dam is not safe to drink and rowers get dehydrated very quickly. It’s worthwhile adding a sachet of Rehydrate to the water.

Chocolate milk. I don’t know why, but after a race this perks them right up.

Food. Rowers eat a lot and they need a lot of protein to recover. Make sure you pack some biltong (for the protein) and fruit. Once they come off the water they’re hot, exhausted and faintly nauseous. They can buy a prego roll when they want to, but make sure they have healthy snacks to munch on all day.

Ice packs. These will keep the food cold, but are also excellent to cool down an over-heated rower.

Sunglasses. Your rower will need a good pair on anti-glare glasses to wear on the water.

Hat / cap: Obviously, their school one.

School uniform. This isn’t always essential, but at the big regattas, they will need to change into their formal uniform for prizegiving. Put it on a hanger and cover it with a garbage bag to keep it dry and clean.

Sandals or slops. I call this ‘Save the socks!’. On the trip to and from the jetty your rower’s socks (that you just bought) will quickly become holes held together by pieces of thread. Just get them some slops.

Dustbin bag. In a vague attempt to help them keep their site clean so that you don’t have to clean it up before you can all go home.

Data. They will need some. Or a lot.

A book. For when their phone battery dies. Some try to do their homework, but I’m not sure any work done in this environment is going to be worthy of an A+.

A first aid kit. With disinfectant spray and plasters.

Cash. For food and more water.

What to pack for you

Camping chair. Go for lightweight over plush comfort. These will probably live in your car boot for the duration of the rowing season, so the smaller they are, the better.

Hat + Sunglasses + Sunscreen

Something to do. Rowing is like war, there’s a lot of waiting around followed by short bursts of extreme stress and excitement.

Binoculars. Or, you’ll end up like me gamely shouting motivation at the wrong rower from the wrong school in the wrong race.

Dress code. This isn’t a day at the polo or the races. There are no prizes for the best dressed. Dress in light layers – 6am is chilly, then it rapidly becomes the fires of hell, then there may be a thunderstorm.

Shoes. Wear very comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting a little dusty. The ground is rocky, so unless you want to look like a baby giraffe about to fall over its own feet, don’t wear heels. Trainers, thick-soled sandals – oh hell, probably Birkenstocks or Crocs are possibly best. If, like me, this offends your sensibilities, do, like me, get over yourself.

Cash. Although you can use Snapscan or your card at some regattas, you’ll need cash for entry and it’s just easier.

Children. Pack a little pup tent so that they have somewhere to escape from the sun. If you can, let them sit it out at a playdate or at Grandma’s. It’s a long day for small people. Larger, non-rower members of the family might like to ride their bikes around the reserve.

Patience. You’ll need a lot of this, more as the day goes on and peaking when you have to watch your rower pack boats at a snail’s pace before you can go home.

You’ll probably be sitting with your team support crew (aka other rowing parents) under the school or club gazebo. So, you don’t need this weighing you down.

Rowing at Roodeplaat Dam

Getting there

Get to Roodeplaat early. And I do mean early. Aim for at least 06:30am. You need to put ‘Roodeplaat Rowing Club’ into your GPS. ‘Roodeplaat Dam’ could take you to entirely the wrong side of this body of water.

Click here to find the Google Maps link

Once you get to the gate, you may find yourself sitting in a long queue with a panicking rower freaking out about being late. You can either throw them out and make them walk or make a plan for the future.

My advice is to buy a season pass. It may seem like a hefty investment, but it will save you time and money. It also lets you drive in the out and bypass the traffic jam with a superior smirk on your face.

Need a sanity break?

There is a Spar down the road if you need more snacks. Turn left at the Roodeplaat exit and you’ll find it a few kms down the road on your left).

There is a Tops there too, in case you need to hang out in the refrigerated beer section for a bit.

A little further back towards the highway is the Kollonnade Shopping Centre where you can do your shopping in between races.

And the Bushmans Rock Spa, just in case you need to fit in a little pampering. 

For long weekend regattas like SA and Gauteng Champs, you may decide to stay over.

The camp grounds at Roodeplaat are basic, but not bad. I’ve never booked, but always found a spot. The sites by the water have  no power and the mozzies swarm down there. I tend to pick a caravan site with power and in close proximity to the loos. The upside is that you’re close to the action and can sleep in a little longer. The downside is in the extreme heat, you will start to melt and tempers will get frayed.

There are some excellent places nearby, but they get booked up very quickly, so if you plan on it, book now. As the years go by, you will learn to place your bookings about a year in advance.

Hengelaars Vriend (AKA Joy Unspeakable): this is right next door. Literally. It’s at the 2km start line.

The Blades: For a real VIP experience.

Segaia Bush Retreat This is my favourite. There are hiking and mountain bike trails, and a swimming pool to entertain other less-rowing inclined family members.

Check out SA Venues for more

If anyone has other regatta survival tips to share, please add them in the comments!


Rowing sisters (and brothers) with blisters

As you slowly watch your child’s hands degrade from soft and supple to something out of Freddy Kreuger, you will doubt the wisdom of this sport.

Get used to it.

Cheese grater hands are par for the course.

Don’t indulge any wallowing, it’s just attention seeking martyrdom.  

You will cringe.

There will be ooze.

There will be blood.

There will be raw flesh.

There will be callouses.

They will be worn with pride and displayed with glee.

Yes, there are rowing gloves, but only the wussies wear them, and rowers aren’t wussies. Also, they don’t provide enough grip on the blade and the friction inside the glove can lead to even worse blisters.

Blisters aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

A lot of the time, blisters can be avoided by simply paying attention to gripping the blade correctly. It’s supposed to be a loose, relaxed grip, but most novice rowers confuse this with the Darth Vader death grip. I don’t really suggest telling your rower this. They tend to get quite aggressive about the fact that their parent is not their coach. Sometimes, we just have to bite our tongues.

Hygiene is the most important factor to avoiding infection. Washing hands before and after rowing. Carefully washing down the blades and handles after every session. If the rower before has ripped open their skin on the handles, do you really think it’s hygienic to put yours on top of it? Again, we may want to drum this into our children, but like the application of sunscreen, sometimes we fail.

The Blister Kit

The blister kit is something every rower should have in the bag along with their spanners. Contrary to popular belief, the coach and the cox do not offer an endless supply of plasters.

  • Needle/ pin/ safety pin to drain the blister.
  • Antiseptic spray like Elastoplast Antiseptic Wound Spray.  
  • Antiseptic cream like Betadine or Colloidal Silver gel, cream or liquid.
  • Fabric plaster.
  • Zinc oxide, micropore surgical or sports tape. If you’re going to tape it up, make sure to tape around the fingers so that it doesn’t get all mushed up around the palm during rowing. It’s worthwhile keeping this in the boat. Change it after the session, otherwise it’s just gross.
  • Small pair of scissor or nail clippers to cut off the flappy bits. EEW. You’ll also need to do this once the blister dries. It’s horrible and cringe-worthy, but the dry bits can catch and rip away even ore skin.

Treating the blister

  • If the skin is torn or rubbed away, wash it with good old soap and water. It hurts, but it works.
  • If the blister is raised and filled with fluid, sterilize a needle and pierce the blister from the side to drain it. Leave the skin on top as far as you can. It forms a natural plaster and a barrier against infection.
  • Apply your antiseptic treatment.
  • If training, cover it up with a fabric plaster or tape.
  • At home, let it breathe! (You can sing this to the song from Frozen if you like).
  • You want the blister to dry out.

Home remedies

There are a few old-timey home remedies that can also help.

A soak in Epsom Salts will help dry it out. It’s also great for sore and aching muscles.

Apparently, wrapping a slice of raw tomato around the palm and leaving it for the night also helps. I haven’t tried this, because my rower regarded me with horror and revulsion upon its very suggestion.

There are a lot of online resources to help you out here

You can Google ‘rowing blisters’ and some excellent sources come up. At the end of the day a rowing blister isn’t that different from any other kind of blister, so use your parental common sense. If it looks dicey go the doctor.

Suck it up, buttercup

As a rowing parent, I have to admit that I have to bite back a smile when my child screams over disinfectant, but can row 2km with raw, bleeding hands. Or in one case, a dislocated ankle!

PS: Avoid surgical spirits and peroxide. They do more harm than good.

The A-Z of rowing: How to talk like you know your stuff.

Rowing season has started and it’s your first regatta. All around people will be talking in a lingo that is utterly alien to you. Your child will spout off terms that leave you bemused and leave your child looking at you as if you are a complete idiot. I know. I’ve been there.

If you’re going to survive here is brief breakdown of what will soon become your second language. Trust me as daunting as it seems, this isn’t half of it.

The boats

Let’s start with the type of boat you child will be rowing in. As a general rule of thumb, they’ll start off in sculls and only move to row sweep in U16.

Reading the draft draw

When you’re trying to decipher the draft draws you need to be able to read the event. The draft draws are available on here on ROWSA.

  • 1x = Single (scull)
  • 2x = Double (scull)
  • 4x = Quad (scull)
  • 8x = Oct (scull)
  • 2 = Pair (sweep)
  • 4 = Four (sweep)
  • 8 = Eight (sweep)
  • JM = Junior men
  • JW = Junior women

So, if your daughter is rowing a quad in the under 14 age group , you’ll need to look for: JW14 4x

Regatta Results

You can keep track of the results on your phone through Regatta Results. Sometimes, there is delay in posting the results so don’t panic, this can be for a lot of reasons, mainly confirming the computer’s results with the umpires on the water.

Boat brands

There are many brands all over the world. These are the ones most used in South Africa. Your child will want a Filippi or a Hudson. Of course they will. You’ve been warned. Plan to sell a kidney on the black market.

Filippi _ The Ferrari of boats (Italy)

Hudson_ The Corvette of boats (Canada) <I made an error and originally wrote US. Sorry if I offended any Canadians.>

Empacher_ The Porsche of boats (Germany)

John Waugh_ The boldly South African

Virtual Row_ The newest player in SA

Swift_ The Haval of boats (China)

The Lingo / Glossary

B, C, D, E, F, G, H, P, R, S, T


Back down: This is when the crew rows facing forward usually to turn or to come into a jetty.  

Backstops: Most often, this refers to Position 1, when the rower sits with legs straight and the blades held at the chest. It’s also the term for the gizmo that stops the seat from coming off the rails.

Blade. An oar. Like scuba divers calling them fins and not flippers or frog feet. It’s a thing.

Boys on the boat: This is a great book. You will soon own several copies of it. Everyone will now give it your child thinking it’s the perfect gift for a rower. We have 4.

Bow: This can be confusing. It is 1: The forward part of the boat – the nose that crosses the finish. 2: The rower in the 1-seat, closest to the bow. 3: Also Bow Side, which is basically port or the left.

Button/Collar: This is the wide collar on the blade that keeps it from slipping out into the water.


Catch: When the blade enters the water and the stroke starts.

Canvas: The covered section of the boat that is from the bow to the rower and from the rower to the stern. Often used to as a description of how much a race was won or lost by.

Cox/Coxswain: The person who steers the boat. They are essential to the crew. If your child is a cox listen to this song _ Hurt Feelings.  

Crab: For about 6 months I thought ‘to catch a crab’ was to catch a literal crab. It’s when the blade catches in the water as the rower tries to take it out. This can make it smash into their jaw, but is more likely to smash their pride.

Crew (rowing): The team of rowers in the boat is called the crew. In America, crew is what they use when they speak about the sport of rowing. It’s the jelly, jello thing.


Drive: This starts at the catch as the rower pulls the blades through the water and ends at the release.  


Ergo/Erg: AKA The machine of torture. Do not call it an indoor rowing machine. You will most likely end up owning one.


Feather: When the rower extracts the blade from the water, they swivel it, so that the spoon skims parallel over the water during the recovery.

Finish: The part of the stroke cycle just before the oar is taken from the water.

Frontstop: The end of the slide nearest the stern. It’s also used interchangeably with 3rd Position which is when the rower sits with their legs at 90-degrees and the blade spoon at the furthest point to the bows.


Gate: Gates must always face forwards and keep the blade in place.

Go for home: From the 100m mark on, you’ll hear everyone yelling “Go for home!”. This is the last intense push for the finish.


Head race: In a head race the boats are let off in 10 seconds intervals and the fastest time goes through to the next stage. They’re essentially racing against the clock and not against other rowers.

Heads: This an important one to know. If you hear someone shout “HEADS!”, duck. Duck quickly and decisively or get beheaded by a boat.


Push for 10: This is an intensive push using everything they’ve got for 10 strokes to get ahead and then maintain their speed.


Rate: The number strokes per minute.

Recovery: This is the last past of the stroke. The blade is feathered and out of the water and the rower must go slowly down the slide to recover before the next stroke begins.

Rigger (also Outrigger): This is the triangular metal framework that holds the blades apart.

Rigger jigger: A small spanner used for attaching and adjusting riggers. These are as rare as diamonds. You’ll end up buying many size 10 and 12 spanners. Keep a set in your car for emergencies.

ROWSA: The sport governing body for rowing in South Africa

Rudder: The cox uses the rudder to steer the boat.


SASRU: The South African Schools Rowing Union

Scull (discipline): There are two types of rowing: Scull and Sweep. Sculling is when one rower uses two blades. Hence – sculler. It’s also used to describe the type of boat.

Slide: The slide are the runners on which the seat sits. Going up the slide is the term used to describe the recovery section of the stroke. You’ll hear a lot of, “Slower up the slide!” from coaches.

Split: The split time is the amount of force applied to each stroke. You want this to be consistent and not jump up and down.

Spoon: The end of the blade that goes into the water.  

Square or squaring: The rower will swivel the blade from feathered to squared. Squared is at a 90-degree angle to the water and where it should be for the catch.

Stroke: Here’s another of those wonderful terms that mean multiple things. 1. The cycle of the rowing motion – the square, catch, drive, finish, release, feather and recovery. 2. The rower who sits closest to the stern and sets the pace. 3. Another way of saying the rate.

Stroke Coach: This expensive piece of equipment allows a rower or crew to keep the rate and split consistent during practice. Someone should make an app for this.

Stroke side: As a rower this is the right, or starboard of the boat. For a cox it’s the left. It’s also used as a blanket term for all the rowers on the left of a sweep.

Sweep: In a sweep boat, each rower only uses one blade – in pairs, fours and eights.


Tie-downs: These are used to tie-down the boats on the trailer. They will go missing with startling regularity. If you have your own boat, buy your own and guard them with your life.

Trestles: These are the portable stands used at regattas to rest the boat on.

Tri-suit: You will buy a lot of these in all sorts of shades and combinations. The most important one will be your school tri-suit. This makes it easy to see what school is in what boat on the water. It becomes confusing when so many are black and white.

So, your kid wants to row…

I met a couple of newbie rowing parents yesterday. All bright eyed and bushy tailed. Was I ever that naïve? It became clear to me very quickly that they have absolutely no idea on how their lives are going to change irrevocably.

Rowing is a team sport not only for the actual crew, but for their support staff – you, the parent.

Rowing is a fabulous sport. The teamwork. The outdoors. The sheer beauty of watching 8 rowers work in perfect unison. The sunrises.

All the good stuff.

However, there are some things no-one tells you about as the parent of a wanna-be rower.

These are but a few of them.

When your child chooses to row, so do you.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. There is nothing that can compare to it. However, (there’s always a but), you have to be prepared to actually do it. Your whole family has to adjust to support an Athlete – with a capital A.

Holidays. When you want to arrange a family holiday, you’ll find yourself hat in hand, cautiously approaching the coach to ask when it would be convenient. The answer is – never. You can have Easter Sunday and Christmas Day off.

Weekends: Lazy weekend braais by the pool with friends? Maybe a brunch with the girls? Don’t kid yourself. These will be but a fond memory. Your weekends will now be spent at regattas. Every weekend. And training stops for no man or woman ­– off-season or on.

Plans. Your friends and colleagues will stop asking about your weekend plans. They’ll know that there is only one answer – rowing. All your conversations will revolve around rowing. Your friends will exist almost entirely of other rowing parents. You’ll be bonded by the same rowing PTSD.

Having a sleep in. You’ll be in the car at 4:30am armed with a folding chair and a cooler box filled with water. Eventually you may find yourself investing in a gazebo. You’ll soon be able to erect and dismantle it in a shorter time than a US Marine can assemble his field rifle.

Dinner. Your meal plans at home will revolve around carbo-loading, pre-hydration, chicken breasts and protein shakes. Your child will eat you out of house and home.

Training. They start you off slowly. One or two afternoons after school. Then Saturday mornings. And Sundays. Then early morning training in the gym 5 – 7am. Before you know what has hit you, you’re getting up at 3 to take your child to the gym, getting them home at 7pm, feeding them a cow, battling through homework, bed and then the whole thing starts again. The pressure on your Athlete and yourself is intense. Everything, including exams, takes second place.

Spanners. You’ll buy so many size 10 and 13 spanners and no. 5 Allen keys that the sales staff at the hardware store will know you by name.

Folding chairs. You’ll quickly discover the pros and cons of every brand and design of folding chair.

Regatta food. You’d better love bacon and egg rolls, and the ever-ubiquitous, chicken prego. This is will be your main diet for most of the season. Bring a sandwich, plenty of water, fruit and chocolate milk. I don’t know why, but a cold Steri Stumpie is the best way for a rower to recover after a race.

The bar. The first time you head off to a regatta as a virgin parent, you might find yourself riding a moral high horse when you see another parent crack open a beer at 10am. Give it a few months.  The good news is that there is usually a very good bar. Schools compete to provide the latest craft beer and gin, fresh Pimms and champers. It’s very civilized.

Talking to your Athlete. Your child will go from zeniths to nadirs in 4 minutes. Their hands will be bloody, they’ll be beyond exhausted. They won’t want to engage with you. Just give them food and water and leave them to it.

Watching the race: This will be the longest and most excruciating few minutes of your life. You’ll need  binoculars, otherwise you’ll find yourself cheering on the wrong child. Oh, and they can’t actually hear you from the water at all. At about the 100m mark all they can hear is the pounding of their own hearts in their ears. People will tell you that you can identify the crew by their blades. This may be true when they’re rowing past you from the finish up to the jetty, but when they’re racing, you’ll be lucky to recognise anything.

The lingo. In order to survive you will need to know the language of rowing. Ergs. Blades. Stroke. Bow. Never, ever commit the cardinal sin of comparing a canoeist to a rower. Canoeist don’t row, they paddle.

Getting home early. Yes, the race takes 4 to 8 minutes. That doesn’t mean you get to go home. There are heats, semis and finals. Your child will be entered in 3 to 4 races. You’ll get there at sunrise and leave at dusk. From the dam, you’ll race back to the boat sheds to unpack the boats. You’ll be home by about 8pm. Get take-out. If you’re going to organize a lift club, try and do the morning trip and get some other sucker to do the home run.

Rowing camps. At some point you’ll be guilted into being a camp parent. This usually falls to the mother. You will fry up enough bacon and eggs to feed the Mongol hoards. You’ll sleep on an air mattress and on the backseat of your car. You’ll get inured to picking through the accumulated detritus of socks and underwear from 60 plus teenage boys. The trick here is to go to one and get it over with at the beginning of the season.

There are parents.

Then there are rowing parents.

Ask yourself. Are you up for it?

Rowing Chronicles: SA Champs Day 3

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There’s a strange sort of feeling one gets after the end of something huge. Something between elation of the moment and the despair that it’s all too illusory.

You want to reach out and grab one specific second and hold it all your life – a moment of glory too great to put into words. A single split second when you rule the world.

SA Champs is the culmination of months and years of training. Sacrifices of sleeping in late, hanging out with friends, dating a girl, just chilling. The aches, the blisters, the pain, the tears and utter physical and emotional exhaustion.

It’s all worth it for that moment when you cross the line and the shoreline erupts and you know you’ve made it.

The medals are great. The personal realisation that everything you’ve done has paid off is better. And the knowledge that no matter where you came, you competed against the best in the country and finished the course.

Sometimes, I have more respect for the boats that come in last than the ones who come in first. The grit and determination it takes to carry on and finish, still giving your all, take enormous courage and sportsmanship.

Coaches, rowers, officials and family have all invested so much in making this spectacular weekend a real celebration of rowing in South Africa – and they all deserve a gold for sheer tenacity.

Now, we’re all home in our own beds and slowly the peaks of elation and nadirs of despair will fade into memory.

For a few weeks we’ll enjoy sleeping in, catching up on Netflix and doing all the stuff we’ve been putting off for the season.

Then, slowly, creeping in like mist upon the early morning water will come a crazy desire, a need, to have it all start over again.



Rowing Chronicles: SA Champs Day 2

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Once more into the breach dear friends, once more.

Imagine a sandpit, a small sandpit, much like you might have had as a child.

Imagine the sandpit contains only one grain of sand.

Now imagine that you took every speck of sand from a beach and put in that sandpit.


That’s what it’s like when you put every rowing child, team and parent into a very very small space at Roodeplaat Rowing Club at SA Champs.

An exercise in quantum physics.

By Day 2 the heat is getting to everyone.

Competition is intense.

Pain, exhaustion, hope, despair and ecstasy is etched on every face.

Those staying over in campsites, tents and lodges are wishing for their own beds.

Those commuting in are wishing they had booked somewhere to stay.

In a certain home of an unnamed rowing mother, the washing up is piling in the sink, dirty laundry is exploding out of hampers and the dogs are forgetting what their people even look like. Said dogs have spent the last 48 hours learning how to take the lid off the dog food and feeding themselves rather than having to wait.

One more day.

Nanoseconds in the greater scheme of life, but for those on the water, those nanoseconds stretch for eternity.

Rowing Chronicles: SA Champs Day 1

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The Sun was just thinking about getting out of bed. He was lying there pondering the peculiarities of people who row.

He wondered vaguely, as one does, in that time between sleep and awake, why on earth these people refused to acknowledge the natural ebb and flow of day and night.

Clearly, they should still be tucked up in bed, waiting for an alarm to go off, only to be silenced 3 or 4 times.

Yet, at 4am, all over the city, parents were gulping coffee, blearily trying to make hearty breakfasts, herd children to cars and make futile attempts to slather them in sunscreen.

Rowing turns normal people into extraordinary ones on a good day and just crazy people on most days. On the weekend of the SASRU South African Championships that is amplified.

Other parents have children who do sport.

They can go off to a match or event, pop out to do some shopping and maybe fit in a manicure.

Rowing parents can’t do that.

Largely, because we schlep far far away from urban living and then spend 8 hours waiting around for 6 minutes of intense action.

We have that 1000-yard stare you find in old war photos – a result of ‘hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror’.

We live for that adrenaline rush – on edge, fiercely competitive, even more protective and horrible torn between wanting to see our offspring go into the finals and that end-of-season longing to just go home and sleep.

Well, the season is almost done and day 1 of the SA Champs is over – and every rowing parent (and their children) are making that final push before floudnerig around trying to figure out what normal people do on weekends.


The end of the world

teenager - 1


Bring a teenager sucks. I’m not old that I can’t remember it – the existential angst, the belief that the world revolved around you and that everything was deeply unfair and designed to thwart you at every turn.

Honestly, how my parents didn’t abandoned my self-absorbed ass on a pavement I still don’t comprehend. I suppose it really is proof of their love for me.

I’m in a bit of a fix you see…

My son and I were supposed to jet off for a mini-break this weekend so he could visit his BFF and I could wander down memory lane. That was until his sports coach gave birth to several litters of kittens this morning. And I can’t blame him.

I really thought we’d be okay. I thought we’d maybe miss one training session, but rowing season is heading for the Grande Finale and him going on a jaunt this weekend would blow his chances of being in the A boat.

Now, I have to face going home to tell him that we’re postponing our trip. It’s actually a good idea, this weekend would have been crazy and if we go in a few weeks we can stay a little longer and he can actually spend time with his best bud.

Still, I know the look on his face will drive daggers through my heart.

Being rationale is not a symptom of being a teenager.

I pondered giving him a choice, but the truth is, I know the choice he’d make would be the wrong one.

Many moons ago I did ballet. I loved it. I was good at it. Then one sunny day I told my mother I wanted to hang out at a friend’s house. She gave me the choice to see my friend and say cheers to ballet or go to ballet. I chose my friend and have regretted it ever since.

The level of competition in school boy sport has become all encompassing. I don’t know how these kids cope. I struggle through a deadline driven 8-hour a day job and he’s up at 5am and crashing in exhaustion at 10:30pm every single day.

I tried to explain that a year may seem endless right now, but by the time he hits 40, will be a blink of an eye.

That the guy climbing Everest has times when he doubts every choice that led him there. When he wants to give up and go home. When he’s cold and hungry and tired. Even when he’s scared. And many do. They go home. But the ones that carry on trudging step by step make it to the most beautiful view on the world and accomplish something intangibly powerful.

I want him to find that hard-headed stubbornness and push on through, but at the same time I want to hold him close and make it all better.

I suppose that’s what being a parent is all about – loving them enough to know when to make unpopular decisions for their greater good. I know he’ll only understand many years from now and that for the foreseeable future I’ll be persona non grata.

So for right now, I’ll just offer some silent gratitude to my parents for the unpopular decisions, for the times I ranted and raged, for giving me choices and consequences and for loving me despite everything.







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The Rowing Chronicles: Woes of a rowing mom

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Being a rowing mom is no joke.

When your child expresses an interest in a sport at school, try and steer them in a direction of something quick, like squash, or tennis or no sport at all. Avoid cricket, gymnastics and rowing.

It’s Monday morning and I have been regaled with weekend reminisces from my colleagues – parties, movies, chilling out, braais, etc.

I have nothing to add. I sit here exhausted, sun burnt, dehydrated and counting the minutes before my Nurofen kicks in. No-one asks me about my weekend. They all know what I did. Rowing. I did rowing. Like every bloody weekend.

In fact, when I was rudely awakened this morning, I couldn’t fathom how it could be Monday already. Surely, there was supposed to be some downtime before I hit rush hour traffic and another 5 day hiatus before another regatta?

Five whole days punctuated with early morning training sessions, afternoon sessions, gym sessions, ergo sessions culminating in a regatta. Again.

At the start of the season, I am filled with enthusiasm. I get to see my fellow rowing parents, who are, quite literally, the sum total of my social life. I’ll get coffee from my beloved Lavazza ladies, be largely ignored my my rowing spawn and hopefully get a G&T later. At this point in the season, I just want a morning to sleep in until the sun rises.

On Saturday morning at 4:30am I looked with relief at the pouring rain and thought that there was no way the regatta would happen. I went back to sleep until a very angry teenager woke me up and demanded to be taken to the regatta – nothing stops a regatta.

I pulled on my wellies and rode off, sans coffee, to park in a muddy pit and trudge chair in hand towards the lake. Thank God for other rowing moms who understand. A cup of steaming coffee was pressed into my hands and conversation was halted until I could utter full sentences.

As I stood on the bank, my wellies coated in mud and duck poo, inhaling another cup of coffee I couldn’t come up with a single reason why I do this.

And then, down the course came the boats and my irritation and exhaustion was cast off in a single breath.

Coming in third, edging up to second and in the last microseconds putting in a burst of speed and crossing the line first was my spawn. My brilliant spawn.

It’s those moments, those minutes from start to finish that make the whole experience absolutely 100% worth the time, the tiredness and the early mornings.

I can’t imagine doing anything else on the weekend.


Thanks to Christopher Hart for his tutorial on zombie drawing!

Welcome to Death Row



Guess what I got for Christmas?

No, not tail lights. That was last year.

Not a blender, or a kettle, or an oven. We’ve covered those.

I got a rowing machine!

When my son’s Rowfit trainer asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I blithely replied that I had bought myself some killer shoes so I could be sure of getting something I really wanted. I didn’t take his little laugh and side-eye too seriously.

I should have.

On Christmas morning, Firstborn and I were led through the garden and into the cottage. I use the term ‘cottage’ loosely. It seems to have been intended as a cottage, but the previous owners got bored halfway through.

We were a little concerned.

What on earth was up there?

We were gobsmacked. I was overjoyed. And then terrified. Very very terrified.

Before I could start, I needed a name.

So, much to my son’s dismay, I conducted a little internet poll on naming options.

Yes, I name things. My car is Bella, because like my Great Granny, she keeps on going. The red car is Funny, because she’s like a little clown car.

What to call the ergometer.

Yes, rowing machines are for gyms, ergometers are for rowers. Apparently, it’s as uncool to call an ergo a rowing machine as it’s to call scuba fins, flippers or (my favourite) frogfeet.

The results are in:

  • The garden cottage is now officially called, Death Row. (I’m getting a sign made!).
  • The erg is a little harder. Top contenders were: Pennywise, WTF and The Destroyer of Dreams (DOD).

My husband wanted a name that sounded really sweet like a My Little Pony character with a hidden dark psychopathic side.

The first week of exercise went really well, until the doctor said that I had managed to spread the infection from my ill conceived ear piercing around my entire body resulting in a finger the size of a pork sausage from a tiny little cut. Since then. It’s been hard to get back in the saddle.

Also, my husband gets a Google Update from Concept 2 everyday with a new exercise routine. He WhatsApps it to me, SMSes it to me and Facebook Messengers it to me. This irks me. And when I’m irked, I put down roots and am incapable of movement.

(I love that word – irks. It sums up that space between mildly annoyed but not yet really annoyed. I am irked. It is irksome.)

Actually, despite what I thought, I rather enjoy it. I get home, change into my “active wear’ and hit Death Row. Then I crank up my Harry Potter audio book and row for 30 minutes.

Then I lie on the floor and cry . It’s very cathartic. Eventually, a spawn will come and check on me, unplaster me from the floor and half guide, half carry me to the house. And then I feel very very virtuous.

Then, my son sees the computer output on the DOD and shudders with suppressed laughter at my agony.

Then I feel less virtuous and more pathetic, until I remind myself that I am a mother of three in her forties, not a super fit 16 year old with Olympic dreams. Then I feel okay.

Sometimes, I beat the DOD.

Sometimes, it kicks my ass.

Mainly, it kicks my ass.

And I’m irked that I don’t look anything like Demi Moore in GI Jane yet.

In the meantime, Firstborn propels the DOD across the floor with every stroke. O think we may have to concrete it in there.