News & Politics

Have More Fun: Rowing

Row, row, row your boat

Most days, being on the water is enough. It’s quiet, and you feel far away from the city. But sometimes the boat feels more stable, the oars lighter, your movements just right. Says Carol Ferrara, who rows on Fairfax’s Occoquan Reservoir: “You feel like you’re soaring.”

Rowing is trickier than it appears. A shell—the boat—is about as wide as your hips and tips easily. Beginners need to learn to “set” it, using their bodies and oars to maintain balance, all while moving back and forth on sliding seats and pulling their oars in synch with teammates. Through hard work, it becomes second nature.

First, choose between sculling and sweep rowing. In sculling, you use two oars and row in boats of one, two, or four people. Handling both oars feels clumsy at first, and some novices end up in the water. But scullers who row alone—as most do at least some of the time—can set their practice schedules and go at their own pace.

Sweep rowing—in which you wield one oar and row in boats of two, four, or eight people—is more of a team experience. Beginners usually start in “eights,” which are wider and harder to flip than smaller boats and include space for a coxswain, a smaller person who steers and calls out commands.

Thompson Boat Center (202-333-9543; , near Georgetown, offers beginner lessons through September. Sculling classes ($150) last a week, sweep lessons ($250) two weeks.

Capital Rowing Club (202-289-6666; , which operates out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse, next to the Washington Navy Yard, will hold a beginning sweep class ($230) on five weekends starting September 9.

The Baltimore Rowing Club (410-355-5649; , south of the Inner Harbor, has a $200 novice sweep class beginning August 26. It runs for seven weeks, meeting three times a week.

Other clubs run beginner programs in spring or early summer. Some, such as Fairfax’s Occoquan Boat Club, which specializes in sculling, teach new rowers on an informal basis if they want to join at other times of the year. For a directory of area clubs, visit and click on “links.”

—Denise Kersten Wills