Archive for March, 2010

Get to Know You

Of all the crews who rack up the miles attending the various events of the Summer Series, few cover more than the boys and gals at TwRC.

They’ve consistently turned up over the seasons more than any other flat water crew and they have earned their spurs. Check out the photos of them getting air at Perran and the ESRF last year if you need persuading.

Their ladies also put in an occasional show and earned huge kudos having a crack at Biarritz on BIG Thursday. Some say it was just an excuse to make the acquaintance of some French lifeguards but we know better.

Mike Dowell has been a regular for the Londoners and here’s his profile.

Name: Mike Dowell

Crew/Seat: Twickenham Tridents – stroke/second bow

Rowing background: Learnt to row at school on the Thames in fine boats when I was 13, and have been rowing ever since. Competed internationally as a junior (briefly!), and have competed at Henley Royal Regatta a number of times too (most recently with TWRC in 2009).
I got into surfboat rowing on a random whim as we have our own Clymer at Twickenham. My first ever experience of surfboat rowing was in Biarritz 2008, and it was mental. Loved it and managed to bag second place in the open championship next to Piha Pistols from NZ. Now we intend to keep TWRC a firm fixture in the UKSRL league!

Day Job: Policy advisor for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

Favourite beach: Anywhere in the South Pacific

Can’t live without: Sausage rolls

If I ran the world: We’d SCUBA dive all day, and BBQ all night.

Most embarrassing moment: Using too much aqueous cream bum lube from the Kiwi’s in Biarritz, sliding all the way across my seat and off the other side in the start of one of our heats. Our sweep was not impressed.

Favourite memory: Coming runners up in Biarritz 2008. Awesome.


As promised, here is the first piece offering an insight into some of the skill-setsneeded to compete in surfboat racing. Porthtowan Blue Bali have been the team to beat for the last few seasons. Very few crews can live with them off the beach and that includes the Kiwis in Biarritz. Tom Hanna has been an integral part of the crew. Here he explains how they are so quick.

The gun goes. The bowman smashes his knee into the rail, second bow straddles the gunwale before face-planting into the footwell, second stroke manipulates his oar back into the rowlock while the stroke is well into his fifth stroke.

We’ve all been there. Losing a race because of a rogue wave is one thing; losing it because you choked on the start is another. Here are a few tips:

Tailor your own start

There are 101 ways to get into the boat and one size does not fit all. It depends on your crew, type of boat and the type of beach you’ll be racing on. What‘s important is that the whole crew is happy with it and you’re well practiced.
In a nutshell,

‘Bum start’
Plant your bum on the seat first. Swing your legs over, put both feet into the foot straps and row away.
+ Good for boats with no decking
- slower getting the first stroke in

‘Step in’
swing your inside leg towards the bow over the gunwale and plant it on the decking. Stand up on it while putting your outside foot in the foot strap. Start the stroke standing up while bums hit the seat half way through, lean back to finish the stroke
+ Simple
- Difficult/impossible for bow on steep beach

‘Jump in’
Same as the step in except jump up with two feet, swing them together over the gunwale. Land with inside foot on the decking, and outside foot on the foot strap.
+Fastest way to get first stroke in
-Has potential to go spectacularly wrong.

Practice makes perfect
Invest time in practicing whatever start you choose. Consider devoting a whole training session just to get the first stroke right. Keep going until you can nail it EVERY TIME.

Develop a routine of drills to go through at the start of every training session. The set of drills should break the process of the start down into constituent parts. For example, for the ‘jump in’

‘Bunny hops’
All four rowers crouch down with hands on the gunwales, spring up together until feet are higher than the gunwales, and land back on the sand.
Focus: timing and balancing the boat

Bow pair, Middle pair, Stroke pair and End pair – x 10
Each pair jump into the boat and into the catch position as fast as possible. The rest of the crew will need to support the boat initially until it can be done without support
Focus: Timing, balance and feet position

‘Build up’
Full crew jump in and take just one stroke – x 10
Repeat process with 3, 5 and 10 strokes.
Focus: Timing and rhythm


It won’t come together straight away. You have to work out where the problem lies and try and fix it. We found the boat tipping to one side on the jump in and messing up the first stroke.
By making sure everyone crouched down at the start and jumped off with two feet the problem was cured.

Photographic evidence emerged proving that Mladen (2nd bow) had jumped into the boat with one leg trailing behind the other. For the rest of the day, every time Nick (stroke) walked passed Mladen he trailed his right leg behind him laughing
“Mladen’s gammy leg”
Funnily enough since that day Mladen has nailed a text book start in every race.

To check out photographs of Blue Bali in action, go to the Bournemouth 09 section of Photos. On the third line you’ll see two shots of their red hot start. Don’t believe it’s as easy as they make it look.

What’s On

We’ve had some suggestions that the old lags among us could help out the newbies by giving up some hard-earned trade secrets. So, over the next couple of weeks we’re going to have a piece from Tom Hanna (Blue Bali) on starts while Dan Berriman is going to giving us his thoughts on how to do the perfect turn.

These are not to be seen as the last word on their subjects. Other “veterans” are welcome to chip in and the experiences of those who have joined up lately will also be welcome.

In the meantime, here’s a profile from Perranporth’s boat captain. I’m still waiting to hear from Wales (does the internet reach that far?) and Bude (well, not much happens quickly up there!)

Name: Shelley Hardwick

Crew/Seat: Perranporth Rebel Angels/Stroke

Rowing background: Ten years of surf boat rowing with a baby break in the middle!

Day Job: Teacher

Favourite beach: I love walking on Perranporth Beach in the winter and in the summer, to avoid the crowds, I like to go to Mexico Beach near Gwithian.

Can’t live without: My family, exercise and chocolate.

If I ran the world: I’d make sure that all the people who really deserve money, get it and that those who just expect it to come to them have to work hard for it instead!

Most embarrassing moment: Breaking wind for the first time in front of my husband (my boyfriend at the time) at the top of Ben Nevis and being so embarrassed I didn’t talk to him all the way back down!! (I can’t believe I am letting this go onto the internet!!)

Favourite memory: Too many to choose from but I have to so…. favourite sentimental memory; my wedding day, Favourite competitive memory; winning Women’s European Surf Boat Champs 2008.

Getting to Know You

Getting to Know You

From the current European Champs crew, this is a man who needs little introduction, particularly to the bouncers at that club in Bournemouth. On Martin’s behalf I’d just like to say the alleged misdemeanours at the end of season bash were a complete stitch up, an obvious conspiracy or a case of mistaken identity.

PS If it was your bloody balloon – get a life.

Name – Martin ‘Crusher’ Downey

Crew/Seat – Barracudas/2

Rowing background – Began flatwater rowing at the age of 40 after playing rugby for 34 years. Started at City of Bristol and got better than most. Took up sculling in 2006 and spent more time on my scull ‘Rhubarb’ than my wife. Discovered surfboating 2 years ago with the Barracudas as one of the founding members. Go to Henley once a year.

Day Job – Director, Bristol Port

Favourite beach – Biarritz

Can’t live without – My wife and a good single malt

If I ran the world – I would be very tired, but quite slim.

Most embarrassing moment – Getting halfway onto the first XV pitch on a training night and then being told I was on the other pitch.

Favourite memory – Newcastle away & me getting the winning try for Nottingham

Manly? Or just from Manly.

What is it about British boaties?

Ours is a summer sport yet our summers are wet, the surf is flat, but still we come back for more. Gluttons for punishment, artists suffering for our craft, or simply the Kevlar of hardcore?

A recent experience is illustrative. January, blocks of ice (not water) on the cover, and a wind chill cooler even than Samuel L Jackson’s long-lost Eskimo brother. And still we rowed.

This is not an uncommon experience for the British boatie. Last year, I remember actually abandoning a row. But only after the third hail storm. By the time we made it back to the quay, I swear there was a drift of hail/snow banked up against the gunwales. One side of my face was so cold and stiff an unsuspecting doctor could have been persuaded that I had died and rigor mortis had set in.

Which set me thinking. Is the British boatie the toughest out there? And how do you measure degrees of hardcore?

Take your archetypal surfboat photograph. A rower, possibly Australian, stands next to his boat while out the back a 10’ wall of water explodes on a sand bank. Armoured only with his tan and a skimpy pair of Speedos, he prepares to take on Mother Ocean.

Hardcore, I accept, perhaps even manly. But would our same hero barrel up for a row when the beach looks like the frozen tundra of an Arctic wasteland and there is a curious inclination to mutter: “I’m just going out for a short walk,” before reaching for the Croker? I have my doubts.

So, who then is hardest of the hard? And how do you measure the steel at the core?

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