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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Members of the BYU rowing team work out at the Great Salt Lake. The sport is slowly growing in popularity among Utah residents, and more schools are taking it up.

Rowing looks easy enough. Simply drop the oars, pull back, lift, push, drop and pull. Or, in more technical terms, catch, drive, finish and recovery.

But while it may look easy, good rowing is said to require "virtually everything a human being can physically bring to an athletic event," claim Olympic rowing officials. Only cross country skiing is said to be more demanding.

The nice part about rowing is that it doesn't need to be so taxing.

Rowers in the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club find rowing can be a good workout, but say it's also a great way to spend time with friends.

"Try it once and you're hooked . . . it's that easy to become addicted," warned Michael Spackman, who did try it once, got hooked and is now president of the Utah group.

Rowing can be done in boats designed for one, two, four or eight persons. Pulling two oars, one in each hand, is called "sculling," and pulling a single oar with both hands is called "sweeping." Boats are called shells and oars simply oars.

Single shells are 26 1/2-feet long, weigh about 36 pounds and are as narrow as 10 inches across. The eight-person boats are 58 feet long and, along with the crew, have room for a coxswain to steer the boat.

In the 2004 Summer Games, there will be 24 rowing events — 14 for men and 10 for women. Half will be sweeping events and half sculling.

An Olympic course is 2,000 meters — or 1.25 miles — long, and is divided into six lanes.

In a typical race, rowers start with a high stroke rate, slow down slightly through the middle section and finish with a burst of speed.

Despite its relatively easy style, rowing is not particularly popular here in Utah. Back before the automobile was introduced, however, in the 1880s, rowing was the No. 1 spectator sport in Utah. For one race in 1888, more than 20,000 people lined the shores near the old Lake Point Resort on the Great Salt Lake to watch rowing.

Today, there are 42 members in the Utah rowing club. Three Utah high schools — West, Rowland Hall and Waterford — offer rowing classes and competition. This year's winner of the rowing cup was Rowland Hall.

The club makes it possible for new rowers to get their hands on an oar, and to continue to row, if they choose, year-round.

"We have five Level 1 rowing coaches in the club," said Spackman. "People can call and make arrangements for a lesson. After three lessons, if the coaches feel they're ready, they can join the club and have the use of our boats," he explained.

"The only thing we ask is that they be kind and safe to the equipment, wash the boats when they're through and sign in-and-out and write any comments about their time on the water."

Available to club members are single, double, four- and eight-person boats.

As noted, pulling and pushing the oars is easy. Doing it correctly, with minimum splash and maximum speed, takes time and training.

A perfect stroke of the oars involves the entire body, and while it may look like the arms do most of the work, it's really the legs.

"Three-quarters of all the work in rowing is done by the legs. The arms, back and shoulders do the rest," explained Spackman.

One of the key movements in rowing is called "feathering." This is where the oar blades come out of the water vertically and are immediately rotated horizontally. All of the oarblades should move at the same time, be kept at the same height and re-enter the water at the same time.

If an oarblade splashes as it enters or leaves the water, then the oarsman is rowing incorrectly. Feathering of the oars is done with the knuckles, said Spackman, "and not with the wrists."

Here in Utah, Wendy Whitney, who in 1988 saw a boat in a sporting goods store and purchased it, brought rowing back to Utah. She bought a video and started rowing. Later, she founded the Salt Lake Sculling Club, from which was born the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club.

For information on rowing, visit the club's Web site at www.glsr.org or call Spackman at 572-6654.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com