By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna rowers make propelling a boat in synchronicity with at least seven other people look easy.
While it isn’t exactly simple, members of the Aqueduct Rowing Club took a day off from their own practice on June 7 for their annual Learn to Row Day, during which the rowers show their neighbors that the skills are, in fact, attainable.
“People are diffident about rowing,” said Jan Altschuller, a rower with the club for about seven years.
She encouraged curious newcomers to step confidently into one of the club’s long, narrow boats.
“It’s good to know: they do not tip,” she said. “Everybody has to be doing everything wrong. It’s never happened here.”
And in this particular rowing club, that level of disorder seems nearly unimaginable. Visitors for the annual Learn to Row Day were treated to a full lesson in rowing that easily took an hour, beginning with a tutoring session on an ergonomic rowing machine much like those one might find in a gym.
“You’re always trying to keep the motion of the boat toward the bow, which is toward your back,” club member Michelle Cravetz said as she coached a new rower on the stationary machine.
After the crash course in proper form, visitors learned about rowing lingo and the parts of a boat. Then, the first challenge arrived: carrying the heavy equipment from the Niskayuna Rowing truck to the Mohawk River.
Preparation involved flipping the boat from a set of slings to the eight rowers’ shoulders, then transferring it to the dock. Beginning with this step, everything the eight-person team did had to be in tandem.
Even for a practiced team, timing is tough, but complete strangers were bound to struggle without help. Luckily, the secret to rowing’s perfectly timed teamwork was revealed: the coxswain, a designated leader whose role demands both teamwork and trust. The coxswain doesn’t row with the team, but rather watches carefully and calls all the shots.
“The coxswain is like the brains, the onboard safety and coach for the boat,” Cravetz said. “Whatever the coxswain says, goes. And, another thing, she’s the only one who can see where you’re going.”
To keep rowers on pace, boats are equipped with speakers throughout so the coxswain’s instructions are available to everyone at the same time. Even with an expert at the helm, mastering all the moves was a challenge for the newbie rowers.
Altschuller said the sport really becomes rewarding when one masters the multitasking it demands. “There’s so much going on,” she said. “People don’t realize how much you use your legs, as well as your arms, as well as your back, as well as most of your brain.” The result, she said, is mentally and physically rewarding.
“It’s almost meditative, that one gets away from thinking about your problems or the to-do list, the ubiquitous to-do list,” Altschuller said.
If you’re interested in joining the club or learning to row, the club will offer a summer learn-to-row program this year.
The program offers classes Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. working with a dedicated coach.
Two sessions are available: July 7-31 and Aug. 4-28. Beginner rowers should be in good physical condition. Rowers must also be able to swim and/or float unassisted.
Upon completion of one session, novice rowers are invited to join the club for a reduced fee and finish the season. Program cost is $150 for one session and $260 for those electing to participate in both sessions. The fee is applied to regular membership in the rowing club for those electing to join.
More information is available at the club’s website http://www.aqueductrowingclub.com.