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Women’s Rowing Walk-Ons

Rowing is experiencing growth as a sport, but it is still an expensive sport with limited access. For athletes that do not live near a body of water or do not have a rowing club in their area, it is difficult to partake in rowing. Fortunately, colleges do offer opportunities for athletes that don’t have rowing experience. In fact, at many colleges, walk-on athletes trying rowing for the first time can make up a majority of the women’s roster.

Athletes who are set on rowing in college, have good grades and test scores and are strategic about where they attend school are likely to get a chance to row—either for a club or varsity team. Read on to learn about basic rowing terminology and how to walk on to a women’s college rowing team.

What teams offer roster spots for walk-ons?

Walk-ons make up a significant portion of varsity rowing rosters at many colleges. Though there are few walk-on spots available at elite programs, there are still plenty of athletes without rowing experience that earn roster spots on strong teams. Walk-ons should still expect intense tryouts and competition for roster spots and they will have to show college coaches that they have raw athletic ability.

Club programs do not offer athletic scholarships and require athletes to pay out-of-pocket to fund their team, but top club teams are faster than several Division 1 teams and are very competitive. Most club teams avoid cutting athletes as long as they give 100 percent effort on a daily basis. Top-tier club programs do have experienced club and high school rowers, but most rowers start as novices. It is not easy to win a seat in the 1V8+ (first varsity eight) boat on a club team, but there are still opportunities to row in the second or third varsity eight and smaller boats.

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What is a novice in women's rowing?

Because there are many walk-ons just learning how to row in college and rowing is such a technical sport, most regattas have a category for novice boats. This category only allows first-year college rowers to develop and lets them compete in the sport without racing against expert rowers right off the bat. However, novices can and do row for varsity boats if a coach thinks they are good enough to compete at that level. This depends on the program.

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Women's rowing terminology

Many people don’t realize that rowing shells are not just pieces of sports equipment—they are also vessels on the water and follow nautical rules. There are many boating-related terms in rowing that beginners are unlikely to know. Here are some that USRowing recommends reviewing, with some of the more commonly used terms listed first.

  • Ergometer: Rowers call it an “erg.” It’s a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion.
  • Coxswain: Also referred to as the “cox”. The cox is the person who steers the shell and serves as the on-the-water coach for the crew. Regattas can require the coxswain to weigh 120 pounds and can add a sandbag to the boat to make up the difference in weight.
  • Oar: Used to drive the boat forward; rowers do not use paddles.
  • Starboard: Right side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of movement.
  • Port: Left side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of the movement.
  • Bow: The forward section of the boat. The first part of the boat to cross the finish line. The person in the seat closest to the bow, who crosses the finish line first.
  • Stern: The rear of the boat; the direction the rowers are facing.
  • Regatta: A series of boat races.
  • Shell: Can be used interchangeably with boat.
  • Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him/her must follow his/her cadence.
  • Sculls: One of the two disciplines of rowing—the one where scullers use two oars or sculls.
  • Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing—the one where rowers use only one oar. Pairs (for two people), fours (for four people) and the eight are sweep boats. Pairs and fours may or may not have a coxswain. Eights always have a coxswain.
  • Rigger: The triangular shaped metal device that is bolted onto the side of the boat and holds the oars.
  • Stretcher or foot-stretcher: Where the rower’s feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. The rower’s shoes are bolted into the footrests.
  • Slide: The set of runners for the wheels of each seat in the boat.
  • Deck: The covered part of the shell at the bow and stern.
  • Power 10: A call for rowers to do 10 of their best, most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor
  • Gate: The bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place.

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Types of rowing boats

There are several different types of boats that are raced on the college level, though the focus in American rowing is on sweep rowing (one oar per person) and the coxed eight (8+). Here is a rundown of different boat types:

  • Coxed eight (8+): Eight rowers with one oar each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Coxed four (4+): Four rowers with one oar each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Coxless four (4-): Four rowers with one oar each and one of the rowers steering with their foot.
  • Coxed pair (2+): Two rowers with one oar each and a coxswain (or “cox”) to direct the crew and steer the boat using a rudder attached to cables
  • Coxless pair (2-): Two rowers with one oar each. One of the rowers steers the boat through a rudder connected by cables to one of their shoes.
  • Coxed quad (4x+): Four rowers with two oars each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Coxless quad (4x-): Four rowers with two oars each, with one of the rowers steering with their foot.
  • Double scull (2x): Two rowers with two oars each. They also steer the boat by varying the pressure on the oars in the water.
  • Single scull (1x): One rower with two oars (or blades). The rower steers the boat by changing the pressure they put on either blade in the water.

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What is a good split time in women's rowing?

A split time on the erg (the rowing machine) shows how long it takes to row 500 meters at the current speed. A split time is the same thing as what ¼ of a 2000-meter erg time is. For example: to row a 2k in 8:00, a rower will need a split time of 2:00. (Because 2:00 times four equals 8:00 minutes.) Reference the 2k erg time recruiting numbers to figure out split times.

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What is a good women's rowing pace?

The rowing pace for a crew varies by boat and by race length. Strong varsity eight crews racing in the spring during championship season often row the middle of the race between 30 strokes per minute to 36 strokes per minute. Sprints at the start and finish can go up to 40 strokes per minute.

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