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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.