Rowing at Oxford isn’t scary

Before I started at Oxford, I was considering taking up rowing. My reasons were not the usual ones. Due to some fairly unique circumstances, contact sport and anything that involves depth perception are pretty much off the table to me. That essentially leaves athletics, swimming or rowing as my options for team exercise, and as the other two don’t have the same college presence that rowing does, my choice was made for me.

Yet, I had some concerns:
“Isn’t rowing a massive commitment?”
“Screw the early wake ups”
“I have no idea how to row”
“Surely the team will be full of people who rowed at school?”
“I’m way too short”

These were the types of things popping into my head, and making me hesitant to get involved. I needn’t have worried. I’m going to address some of the myths about college rowing at Oxford, so that any of you thinking of getting involved aren’t discouraged by the rumours.

Rowing is a massive time commitment.

Nobody will tell you that there is no commitment in rowing. That would be a lie. Yet, I feel like the actual commitment levels are overstated. What it is important to note is that the commitment levels will depend on your college and which team you row for. All of us are aware that ‘practice makes perfect’, and this is as true of rowing as any other sport. What this simply means is that those who are more committed will end up in the higher-level teams, and those who don’t attend as many sessions will row at a lower level.

It is true that, whatever team you are in, there will be a few sessions a week. This is not an hour-per-week sport. But it is also true that it is not much greater commitment than going to the gym a few times a week, or going for an hour-long run.

But aren’t the early wake-ups hell?

Yes and no. The early wake-ups are the main reason, I think, that people see rowing as such a big commitment. While most rowers may spend no longer exercising each day than someone at the gym, we often do our practice at absurdly early times. This is not ideal, but it is also not as tragic as it sounds. As a humanities student, I am pretty much free to do as I please with my time, and all that the early wake-ups meant were that I would go back to bed for a few hours afterwards. But most people are not like me in that respect. Many find that starting early with exercise really helps them kick off the day. Either way, the wake-ups are not as bad as they sound.

They are also not every day. In Michaelmas (first term), I only went to 2 water-sessions each week. Some of your training is on the water, but other parts are elsewhere, such as in the gym, where the timing rules don’t apply.

Best of all, the wake-ups can stop in the summer. In Trinity term the rules change, and this is where rowing really becomes rewarding. You can train for Summer VIIIs – the big inter-college competition to cap off the year – in the warm summer evenings, and all the effort over the previous two terms somehow seems worth it.

The team will be full of school rowers, and there won’t be the space or desire to train up new people.

This could not be further from the truth. Though those who have rowed before do start off with an advantage, you get out what you put in. If you are dedicated, you can certainly catch up to their level, and make whichever team you have your heart set on making.

Not only this, but the college teams definitely have a desire to get new people into rowing. The amount of people who rowed in school won’t even fill a boat at most colleges, and there are usually multiple teams per college.

In Michaelmas, Christchurch Regatta is exclusively for Oxford novice rowers, and so first term is usually used as an opportunity to teach new rowers how to row. It doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never rowed before – there is a place for you in college rowing.

But I’m too short to row!

This applies to any physical aspect really. You are not too short, too heavy or too unfit to row. This is the beauty of having multiple teams. We are not talking about rowing for the Blues in the Boat Race here, we are talking about college rowing. People from all different levels of fitness, and of all different sizes, get involved. Obviously, the first teams are often filled with strong, fit people – as these attributes are conducive to good rowing. But this does not mean that there is a height or weight cut-off to rowing. If you want to row, there’s a place for you.

Rowers are all boring and arrogant.

I guess, considering I am a college rower, I would say otherwise, but this just isn’t true. Rowing is just like any other sport. You’ll see your fair share of arrogant and boring people in whatever sport you choose to play. However, you’ll also meet plenty of interesting, kind, and friendly people. Rowing is no different.

At the end of the day, what I’m trying to say is that if you want to row, there’s no reason not to give it a try! It doesn’t matter how tall or fit you are, and nobody will care if you have never rowed before. Get in touch with your captains – they will make themselves known early on – and go to the taster sessions on offer. If you do end up hating it, you can always drop out, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you won’t!