What we look for when watching a rowing race


It’s World Cup time now in Europe and the New Zealand crews are getting into the action. We’re huge fans of the sport as well as boat builders, so that means when it comes time for these big international races, we’re not just watching for the love of rowing, we’re also keeping a keen eye on how the boats and crews are racing. Here’s what we are looking at when any boat is coming down the course.

Is that a bounce?

One of the most obvious things to pick up from the river bank or on the TV is how a hull moves through the water. Is the bow pushing much too deep into the water line? Does it surge up high out of the water at the catch? Can you see the stern ‘stopping’ each stroke as the blades enter the water. To us, these are big indicators of how well a crew is suited to a boat and how well that boat is flowing through the race. Ideally we want to see the boat moving reasonably smooth and level through the water. There will always be a bit of ‘bounce’ to a stroke, but any big movement up, down or backwards is all energy that isn’t moving forwards.

Where is the waterline?

Again, this can be pretty easy to spot, and it’s a sure fire way to tell if a boat is too big or too small for a rower. At the top level you’re unlikely to see someone getting it completely wrong, but at regional level you’ll see plenty of boats with the water line almost slopping into the boat, or the hull sitting so high out of the water it may as well be a hovercraft!

How’s that stroke rate?

A lot can be told by a rower and their stroke rate. A light gearing can see a rower spinning the wheels down the course, while a heavy gearing might see them drop the rating a few strokes. The key here tends to be how that gearing relates to their race speed at the start, in the middle, and at the end of the race. If there is a noticeable drop-off in speed towards the end of the race, maybe that gearing could be a little heavy.

Overall impressions

These are just a few of the things we keep an eye on in the boat. There are a ton of aspects we haven’t got to in this blog – like whether a rower is setup too far forward or back in the boat, what their boat looks like compared to the conditions, or how their blades enter and exit the water. In such a simple sport there are a huge amount of little technicalities that you can zoom in on to see what’s happening in a rower’s race. That’s why we love that racing time of year!