I have been having trouble recently with my hands getting soaked during race pieces and losing my grip with my inside hand. I’ve heard suggestions including getting it wet with river water and moving my pinky off of the grip. When I watched video of the 2015 World Rowing Cup II M8+, I noticed – just past 6:00 in – New Zealand’s six seat dips his outside hand in the water, twice. What is the purpose of that?
Wetting the hands for better grip seems totally counter-intuitive, right? The quick answer to why some people dunk their hands in the water is that it opens up the pores on your skin and therefor increases the skin’s ability to grip the handle. We could also consider that some science claims that “pruney” fingers increase grip, too. “(Pruney fingers) could be working like treads on your car tires, which allow more of the tire to be in contact with the road and gives you a better grip,” says Tom Smulders, an evolutionary biologist at Newcastle University, UK, and a co-author of the study “Water-induced finger wrinkles improve handling of wet objects.”
BUT … the hand-dunking doesn’t work for everyone. Some rowers claim it was helpful back in the days of wooden handles, but find that the technique is less effective when using newer neoprene handles.
If the “wetter is better” theory doesn’t float your boat, next time you’re sitting at the start, wipe your hands off on your uni and blow on your hands to dry them as much as possible.
During a race, if you feel you have to get a better (drier) grip, try scooting your outside pinky off the end of your handle. The edge of the neoprene will allow for a bit of extra traction and this wider grip makes controlling the oar easier. Having your pinky at the end of your handle also helps to press it outboard so that you maintain better pressure on the collar against the oarlock.
If you feel confident in your oar-handling abilities, you can also move your inside hand closer to your outside hand if you’re desperate for dry real estate on the handle. Your grip should be relaxed enough that this small lateral motion can happen on the recovery without affecting your stroke.