Four (and a half) Tips for Rowing in Wind

Serbia's Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik fell victim to wind and chop at the Rio Olympics

Every rower hopes for perfect, glass-like conditions when they get out on the water. If only the rivers and lakes we set our boats on were free from pesky wind and challenging weather. We might be lucky enough in the early morning for relative calm, but it’s a near certainty that one of these days you’ll find yourself pressing the bow into the wind.

The chop catches the bottom edge of your blade. A wind gust turns it into a sail. A rogue wave splashes over the gunwales. Rowing boats are made for flat water, so when the instability due to increasing tailwinds, light headwinds, or sudden gusts just seem impossible to overcome, sometimes all you can think is “Are we back at the dock yet?”

Most rowing programs spend the majority of practice time focusing on perfecting the stroke and building endurance and power based on ideal conditions – calm, no wind, no chop, no debris. And when wind picks up, coaches tend to stick to their workout plans and hope for the best. The case to be made is that you just never know what the conditions will be like on race day, so use the opportunity to row in the wind. But how often does your coach talk about what to do when weather is less-than-perfect?

In order to row effectively in the wind you need to:

Row on flat water competently

If only it were that simple. But it’s a starting point for prepping yourself mentally. When you have solid flat-water rowing skills, you’ll be a more confident rough-water rower.

Learn to relax

Elite coach Carlos Dinares puts it this way: “Good coordination in rowing can be defined as the right muscles tensing the right amount at the right speed at the right time.” This is true no matter what the conditions, but in the wind it’s common for rowers to turn into robots – arms extended and stiff on the recovery, shoulders tense through the drive…

If we think of relaxation as competent coordination, that means firing the right muscles at the right time and relaxing all of the other muscles not involved in the movement. This skill of relaxing non-essential muscles will decrease tension that interferes with desired movement and help save energy.

Get – and Stay – Connected

Finding the set on the recovery is hard enough on flat water. Add chop and wind and the whole exercise gets even trickier. Prepare yourself for good set by getting quick connection at the catch, pressing through the drive and keeping the blade in the water as long as possible. Boat stability is best when all blades are in the water. Take advantage of the stability through the drive to create boat speed when the blades release and set yourself up for a controlled stable recovery.

Think About Blade Work and Layback

TAILWIND: Square up earlier in a tailwind (wind at the stern) for the wind to catch the large face of the blade and act like something of a mini-sail. Focus on precise blade entry. In a tailwind, it’s easier to lay back, but more challenging to get your hands away. If you control your handle on the recovery, the wind will give you “free length” as it draws you up the slide.

HEADWIND: Square up later or flip catch in a headwind (bow into the wind) to lower wind resistance on the blade and keep your stroke long into the catch. Emphasize leg drive and focus on strong – but not exaggerated –layback to help maintain connection through the finish.

CROSSWIND: Maintain even pressure port to starboard (unless called to add power for a turn or course adjustment). If the wind is steady from one direction, press a bit of extra weight into the windward hip and/or foot and engage the core for stability.

Blade work and layback are two elements of the stroke that are highly specific to each crew, and are dependent on what the coaching staff prefers. Talk to your coaches before trying something new.