It was a virgin row – the first time I'd jumped into a quad with this particular posse. Like most initial outings, we took our time, starting out slowly, gradually ramping it up, and then bringing it back down.
And between every piece, the conversation went something like this:
"How'd that feel?" "How's the rate?" "The slide speed?" And so on.
Anyone listening to us would think we'd just jumped in bed with each other. I'll be honest—they're not half wrong. As with any relationship, rowing with others calls for good communication and even more important, rowing a group boat well requires chemistry.
Ask any rower and he or she will agree – a lot more goes into it than just matching strokes. There's timing, body angle, and drive intensity. Taller people need to shorten their stroke, shorter people must do their best to lengthen.
Yet in the end, it's a crap shoot. You can toss the best scullers into a boat and it can feel like a pillowcase full of fighting cats. Conversely, you can put together a motley crew and it can sing like a chorus of angels. There's just no telling.
But when magic happens, it's profound. After the row, the boat sidles up to the dock like a sigh while everyone on board reminisces about that string of strokes where the boat was nearly levitating, each graceful slice of oar to water timed perfectly, the rush of water under the boat so melodic you could almost hear the bubbles kissing the hull as it whooshed by. Picture Meg Ryan at the diner in "When Harry Met Sally." You know what I'm saying.
Sadly, that kind of magic is elusive. Rowers up and move to other boathouses (the nerve!), bad habits come and go, and conditions vary. But we rowers are an optimistic—and fairly fickle—bunch.
Despite awkward rows and near misses with rowing nirvana, we continue to jump in boats with other rowers in search of our dream teams. And whether or not we hit pay dirt, we'll carry on for—if nothing else—pure love of the sport.