Archive for May, 2010

Speedo are Pants

My latest newsletter from Surfers Against Sewage (Pipeline) has just plopped onto the hallway mat.

Over the years SAS has introduced imaginative and effective ways to campaign – remember the great inflatable poo? Those of us old enough to recall sitting in the line-up at Aggie as a brown cloud of shite drifted around the point can also testify to just how dramatic an impact SAS has had on cleaning up our seas. Stomach upsets and ear infections used to come with being a surfer – not any more.

There remains much to be done, however, and one of the stubborn problems concerns the amount of crap (litter, not poo) that gets washed up on our beaches. In accordance with its innovative traditions, SAS has a Return to Offender campaign whereby identifiable pieces of marine litter are sent back to the companies responsible.

In a recent clean-up at Porthtowan, one item of concern came from Speedo. It was duly returned. Pipeline reports that the following missive was the enlightened response from the manager of one of their stores:

“I am writing this in acknowledgement of an item that you sent to my company. You obviously don’t think as you are all a bunch of self-righteous twats with your heads so far up your arse (sic) you have forgotten what real problems society face. Here is a tip. Get over yourselves, get a real job and start contributing to life in a meaningful way.”

This creates a moral dilemma. Henceforward I shall decline to clad my butt cheeks in Speedo’s finest but if I’m not to be arrested and placed on a certain list I’ll need to wrap them in something. Does anyone have the number for the stockists of the flowery numbers sported by certain discerning members of a French team a season or two back – now those were some cheeky chaps.

Lest too light the prize….

When I was a kid, my folks always took my brothers and I to the Scilly Isles for a two-week summer holiday. Among many happy memories are those of a Friday evening when all of the inhabitants, locals and tourists alike, would cram onto an Association boat and go out to watch the gig race.

Back then, and we’re talking thirty years and more, there were only half-a-dozen or so gigs. The rowers were mainly farmers who, after a week tending their daffs, would pull on an oar for 30 minutes or so just for a bit of fun.

At the start of this month the World Champs were held in Scilly as they always are over the first Bank Holiday in May. There were 50 or so teams in the Mens and Ladies veterans’ races on Friday night. Over 110 crews entered the Open events in both sexes. That’s approximately 2,000 rowers. Regulars come from Holland and Wales and there have been entrants from the USA and Faroe Islands. Everyone has had to transport their gig over, sort accommodation (St Mary’s is already fully booked for next year’s event) and generally make a considerable effort to take part.

The growth of gig rowing is a massive success story and to be applauded.

Yet why is it so successful? And can surfboats achieve a similar outcome?

We all know that in Australia surfboat racing is shown live on TV and there is sufficient interest to run a professional league. The UK has a wonderful heritage in rowing generally and the coverage that has been secured for surfboats here in recent years has been well above what could reasonably be expected (thanks in large part to successive editors at British Rowing.)

TV coverage is lined up for this year’s Summer Series, there are plenty of enquiries being received for the UK Open at Saunton Sands on 24 July so why are team entries for the first event at Porthcawl this week-end so disappointingly small? And what can be done to remedy the situation?

We have a great sport. An incredible amount of work, by a dedicated few, has set up a Summer Series, introduced a European Championship and created huge amounts of potential. There are plenty of boats and willing sweeps ready to go. So why are we not flooded with entries?

There is a risk that we don’t realise just what we have. Or, as the Bard put it, too light the prize makes the winning too light.

How to tell the real boatie?

How do you distinguish a real boatie from other sports/surfing pretenders?

Obviously, boaties are the best-looking, fittest and most courageous of all athletes on the planet. Yet these qualities each offer a subjective element and, with beauty in the eye of the beholder, opinions differ.

At this time of year, however, there is one objective, unimpeachable test. At this time of year the rolling seats of winter are dispensed with in favour of the fixed seats needed for surf. At this time of year, the eight months of dust and grime that have accumulated on the fixed seats while in storage need to be removed.

There is only one way this can be done – by sliding one’s exposed backside up and down said seat and removing not only the the dust and grime but also the hairs on your backside that have grown back since being unceremoniously plucked from your skin same time last year.

At this time of year, the true boatie sits down very gingerly.

I have discovered another truth: it is difficult to write a blog standing up.

In da Hood

Apologies for a lack of blog-action lately – a nasty outbreak of workus interruptus was to blame, from which now happily recovering.

Anyway, one of the many things I’ve neglected to mention is that Ridley Scott’s magnificent opus Robin Hood is now out starring Russell Crowe… and a selection of the great and good from UKSRL who took Hollywood’s dollar rather than stand on wet beaches around our shores looking at flat surf during the opening rounds of last year’s Summer Series. Those who ought to receive due mention in the list of credits/stuntmen/expendables include Nick Beringer, JR, Dan Berriman, Pete Postle, Ellis and Cris Ballinger.

I hope to post here shortly a piece from one of those in attendance. In the meantime, here is the record of a conversation that I am almost certain did not take place on the beaches of West Wales last year.

Ridley: “Cameras ready. Where’s our hero?”

JR: “I’m here.”

Russell: “Er…”

Ridley: “Action!”

Postle: “You can’t say that in front of the sheep from these parts. Trust me, I know.”

Russell: “Get those cameras off the boats. Just because they caught a wave.”

Cris: “When did you last pull an oar?”

Russell: “But I’m the star.”

Nick: “You’re a bit of a fat boy, really.”

Russell: “Apologise low life, or else” (draws sword.)

Nick: “Did you eat the extras as well as all the pies?”

Russell: (advancing with menace) “I am stomach maximus and I shall have my vengeance in this canteen or the next.”

Postle: “De-caf for you from now on, Mr Crowe.”

Nick: “He’s still a fat boy.”

Cameron (Lib/Con alliance): “I agree with Nick.”

Cris: “Who are you?”

Cameron: “All I’m saying is that if we pull together we can beat Porthtowan off the beach.”

All: “F**k off.”

The Newest Boatie

Congratulations to our Chairman – Louise Gapp – on the birth of her daughter.

Charlotte Elizabeth was born at 7:37pm on 5 May weighing in at 7lb 11oz.

Note to Blue Belles – Louise won’t be rowing this week-end!

To Turn or Not to Turn

Continuing the theme of Trade Secrets here is a third piece this time dealing with the vexed issue of how best to turn a surfboat around a buoy. Sounds very simple but when you’ve four rowers going flat out, boats on either side of you and a current pulling the cans down the beach life can become a little hectic for us poor sweeps.

This is one of the skill sets that newbies just have to learn and the only way to do it is to practise. New sweeps can expect to do some swimming – just the slightest touch of the sweep oar as the boat spins around and out you’ll go.

Dan Berriman sets out the various options below. His original piece included some sketches to illustrate the points he makes. Unfortunately, due to on-going glitches in the software, I can’t -yet- reproduce these – or images – in the blog. It’s a server issue I don’t understand but our administrator has been promised three times it’s been fixed and guess what? Not done.

Anyway, let us know what you think.


“You want us to do what?!”…
…“Is this a wind-up?”

There are several aspects of surfboat racing that are so alien to the more conventional forms of rowing that those new to the sport need some convincing that they are indeed genuine. When compared to the lessons on wedging-up, flying off your seat, letting go of your oar and rolling over, the Racing Turn is often consigned to the file marked ‘work it out when we get there’ by new crews in favour of more exciting stuff. But the concept of deliberately catching a crab whilst rowing at full speed before heading back where you just came from is just as weird for new flat-water or coastal rowing conscripts as walking down the boat.

Along with Starts and Finishes, the Turn is one of the three technical components of the race that must be practiced to the death. It is crucial because firstly it’s a requirement of every single race irrespective of conditions; secondly it can be performed equally well by the weakest and strongest crews; and thirdly a good or bad turn can make or break your race. The best drilled boat will run the turn with all the teamwork and precision of a Formula 1 pit crew.

Below we deal with some fundamental elements to remember, followed by a step-by-step guide to my favourite turn and finally some training drills.

There is no secret to a good turn, nor is there any ‘one size fits all’ method. Just like Starts you need to find a technique that suits the sweep, the crew, the boat and the conditions.

The rules are straight forward. The boat must round the buoy clockwise without impeding any other boats. Beyond that you’re free to try anything, but here are some fundamentals to consider while you‘re experimenting:

Momentum is key to a successful racing turn; avoiding having to lift a ‘dead boat’ out of the cans is imperative. A crew that retains the greater momentum through the turn will be most effective.

The optimum Racing Line might appear to be straight out, turn 180o, then straight back, but this leads to the greatest loss of momentum.

The opposite end of the spectrum is to approach the buoy in a wide arc, maximizing momentum, but making the crew row further.

The compromise that most sweeps adopt is to approach the buoy at 45o, reducing the sharp turn to 135o.

My favourite approach is to ‘skid’ round the buoy in a manner similar to the way a rally car power-slides round a corner, termed by generation X-box as ‘drift’ (strange…like a boat!). This technique makes use of the fact the surfboat is effectively flat-bottomed and can turn within it’s own length.

Try it out…on a flat day, row hard for 10 strokes; after 7 turn hard right and ‘pump’ the sweep oar with each stroke. After 10 strokes let it run and keep the blades clear of the water, simultaneously lift the sweep oar out and ship it forward. You’ll be surprised how tight a turn can be achieved with apparently nothing turning the boat and you should hear a ‘rush’ sound as the stern skims across the surface. Have the crew row off hard before the boat stops to see the benefit of maintaining momentum.

Balancing the boat is essential through the turn. Some crews have experimented with tipping the boat to reduce the effect of the keel, but this fails on two counts; first in order to release the keel the gunwale would have to be underwater, secondly the waterline increases as the boat is tipped, making it slower to turn. Good balance in the boat enables the most effective strokes by bow-side and allows the Sweep to get over the forward quarter-bar, releasing the stern.

Whatever the style of turn, focus on maintaining momentum and maximizing exit speed. This is more important than actually pointing at the beach!


…yes…I said 2-strokes!…
This represents my favourite turn, which my crews have developed over the last few seasons. Feel free to use, abuse, comment and evolve. It is written from the perspective of a right-handed sweep. Commands are in ‘italics‘.

‘10 to the buoy’ – Crew should lift the effort, focus on smooth power, boat speed should be high without a ragged frantic rate. Sweep to step over forward quarter-bar if not already there.

‘3 to the buoy’ – Position boat 2 lengths left and 1 length short of the buoy. Turn hard right by pumping the sweep oar in time. All four rowing.

‘2’ – (Counted on the catch); again pump the sweep oar. All four row. Boat is 160o from the beach.

‘1’ – At the catch, stroke-side miss a stroke with 2nd Bow marking time as the Stroke prepares to hold water by reaching for pivot point, offering handle aft and reversing feather slightly. Also at catch Sweep ships sweep oar forward and grips stroke oar. No oars in water for this stroke other than bow-side. Boat is 120o from the beach and spinning already.

‘Turn (Buoyo)’ – Sweep digs in stroke oar in time with bow-side catch, keep shallow. Stoke supports his oar. 2nd Stroke makes big effort ¾ length fast rate reaching right forward. 2nd Bow feathers oar and balances boat, do not ship the oar and do not catch the water! Bow follows 2nd stroke, focus on reaching around the bow. Boat is 90o to beach.

‘2’ – (At catch of 2nd stroke round the can.) Most weight is now off stroke oar, Sweep releases this and Stroke removes blade from the water. Bow-side row hard. 2nd Bow balance. Boat is 60o from beach.

‘Ready’ – (on recovery from last stroke) Stroke-side recover in time with bow-side and prepare for ½ length strokes for max acceleration. Boat is now 45o to beach.

‘Row’ – (at catch of next stroke) All four big effort, high rate, short then longer strokes. (Bow-side will naturally out-pull stroke-side in spinning boat thus completing the turn). Boat is facing beach. Only put sweep oar back in water when boat has straightened up.
Two strokes round the buoy…told you.

Start with a Static Turn from the point the stroke oar digs in. Sweep and Stroke hold water and on command Bow-side row two strokes. Then row out of the turn with ‘Ready’ then ‘Row’ commands. Focus on releasing stroke oar, preparing for exit and sprinting out.

Now try a full turn but with Light Power. …Are you still in the boat?…congratulations, you didn’t put the sweep oar in too early!

Now the killer drill…use a Double-ended course; set up two turning buoys 100m apart. Row continuous turns 4, 6, 8, 10 etc… this distance allows just enough time to settle in to regular strokes before the next turn. Your crew needs to be able to turn perfectly even when they’re shattered, so beast them hard until you get 4 good turns in a row.

The racing turn is an essential part of every race. Your crew will need to perform it 20 times in the season so you should aim to have completed at least this many practice turns before the season starts. A fast turn can be a great weapon so if you’re new to the sport, don’t overlook it in favour of the more exciting stuff!

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