Rowing the blue
It’s a calm fall morning out on San Francisco Bay, and a meretoothpick of a boat ― more than 20 feet long, less than 1foot wide, and powered by two lean oars ― skims across thesurface like a giant water skeeter.
Shirwin Smith, founder and former owner of Sausalito-based OpenWater Rowing, is out for her usual morning workout. “Here I am inthis major urban area, and 1/4 mile offshore, there’s no one― just me and the birds and the seals. It can’t get muchbetter.”
Around the Bay Area, a lot of folks agree with her. Roughly adozen rowing clubs ring the bay and bordering waterways. Thoughenthusiasts ply the waters year-round, many ramp up theiractivities now, when the fog of summer gives way to warm fallweather. It’s a great time to give the sport a try; several localclubs offer inexpensive lessons for beginning rowers of any age(see below).
If you’re not inclined to take an oar (or two) in hand yourself,you can still get a good introduction to the sport by watching aregatta. Often 60 boats or more compete in local races, which canspread out for miles; catch them at or near the start for the beston-the-water action.
Around the Bay Area, you’re likely to see three kinds of boats.There are the most traditional crafts: dories, shells, and plainold rowboats, designed for rough surf. Then there are the fast,lean racing shells (like the one Smith rows) for cruising calm,flat water on lakes, wide rivers, and creeks. And finally, morestable and compact open-water shells handle the choppy waters ofthe bay and beyond.
As for the rowing itself, there can be one to eight people inthe boat. There’s sculling, when each rower has two oars, andsweep, with rowers in the boat manning a single oar each. Allrowers sit on sliding seats on metal tracks, allowing for a smooth,clean stroke that uses leg, back, and arm muscles ― a total,nonimpact workout.
Just ask 54-year-old Smith. “I’ve had three hip replacements― not due to rowing ― and I’m still out on the wateralmost daily. Like I said ― what could be better?”
Local rowing clubs and events
Get gliding at these locations (listed from north to south). Alloffer inexpensive or free instruction for beginners, and severalsponsor fall regattas.
North Bay Rowing Club. Hosts the Petaluma River Marathon on Sep19. www.northbayrowingclub.orgor 707/769-2003.
Marin Rowing Association. www.marinrowing.org or415/461-1431.
Open Water Rowing Center. www.owrc.com or 415/332-1091.
UCSF Rowing Club. www.recsports.ucsf.edu/clubs/#rowingor 415/675-9744.
Bridge to Bridge Regatta. Sep 12. www.south-end.org or415/661-7676.
Lake Merritt Rowing Club. www.rowlakemerritt.orgor 510/273-9041.
Head of the Estuary Regatta. Oct 31. www.jlac.org or 510/208-6060.
Bair Island Aquatic Center. www.gobair.org or650/474-2247.
Los Gatos Rowing Club. www.lgrc.org or 408/566-9406.
Santa Cruz Rowing Club. Hosts the annual Lobster Row on Oct 3. www.scrowing.org or831/438-1451.