Zen moments on an ebb tide

Before the city wakes – The Mount College novice 8. Photo: Alex Rennie.

“Rowing is a sport that resonates with certain individuals at a very deep level and it gets to be like a calling.” A spiritual take on rowing from Yale University coach David H Vogel.

The experience of Tauranga Rowing Club masters double scullers Richard Rennie and Christina Rowe isn’t nearly as lofty or divine. But it’s certainly up there.

“When I get back from a good row, the endorphins are charged and I’m really buzzing about the day ahead of me,” says Christina, who is a Te Puke entomologist.

A ‘good row’ entails sculling around the harbour between club HQ at Memorial Park, Rat Island, the rail bridge and harbour bridge – or a full circuit past Maungatapu – 9km in and-a-half hours three times a week. “Yes, you break a sweat.

And all this as the sun is delivering a new day and before a city has stirred. As one wag put it, rowers do more before 8am than most people do all day.

“It’s certainly a special time and a privilege to be out there,” says Christina, who, for that short window in any day, owns the harbor and has it to herself. “It just adds something to my life.”

“If you strike an ebb tide, the harbour will be silky smooth like a glass table top,” says Richard, who is Christina’s double sculls partner. “It’s a perfect canvas and you don’t want to spoil or waste it. You execute your strokes accordingly.”

It’s a romantic picture they paint. It’s also a pitch for new mature rowers.

“There are very few older rowers in our club,” says Richard. “There’s a history of people getting to an elite level but then things get in the way – like life, mortgages, kids, work and all that stuff.” But now it’s time for them to reconnect. And for those who’ve never been in a rowing skiff, to give it a go.

“So we have decided to provide a four week-long adult learn to row course next month.” There will be theory about the bits and bobs of a boat, some of the rich terminology including words like ergometer, rigger, blade, feather and puddles; and the anatomy of a rowing stroke so people maximise their enjoyment and don’t walk away to join a golf club.

“If all those things come together you will experience a sensation of power and smoothness,” says Richard. “It’s a sensation you may not get elsewhere except in something like dancing, where two people are working closely as one.”

The problem is you can’t drop a novice rower into a crew that’s been together for a while. “Rowing is technically quite a challenging sport. You would soon find out what you don’t know.”

That’s why it’s best to start with a bunch of people of the same ability and understanding. “You can’t simply climb in a boat and think I will knock this out in a week,” says Richard.

The Tauranga Rowing Club is not looking for Olympians. “You may not be the most powerful or graceful crew. You may not want to win a race, but it might be nice just being in the race.” And he promises some zen moments. “A togetherness of body and mind. When you are on the water you don’t have the phone, there are no messages nor emails, nothing that clutters up the life of a 50-year-old.”    

And therein lies a story, Richard’s story. “The gym gets boring, like doing the supermarket shopping. You turn up, do your circuit and don’t engage with anyone. You leave supposedly healthier but totally switched off. Then you go home, go to work and do it all again. Well I thought I could do more.”

There was unfinished business. He rowed at high school, then his daughter rowed, he went to regattas and re-engaged. And bearing down on 50 he set himself a challenge – get back in a boat and make the 2017 International Masters here in New Zealand in April. He and Christina are on track.

And rowing is a complete form of exercise without the impact.

“It’s harder to do things like running when you get older – knees and ankles are susceptible. But rowing doesn’t put strain on specific parts of your body. It’s good for cardio and core muscles, good for your back, legs and thighs.”

A career as a masters’ rower can be an extended one. You qualify aged 27 but there’s also a division for rowers aged 80-plus. “What other sport can readily accommodate people like that?” Old men, and not so old men, sitting down and going backwards in the dark as Richard puts it.

Christina has found her niche. “I was not so much a team sport person – I never knew what to do if they hit or threw a ball to me. It would scare me. But rowing, like running or cycling, where you simply repeat an action is a lot easier and attractive to me. Rowing is about perfecting a technique and repeating it.”

But repeating it competitively for 2km for more than six minutes is tough and exacting, no slackening, no letting up. Or you can simply make it a pleasurable romp around the harbour.

And if at 6am a rower is in the groove and powering a double scull up the harbour just off The Strand they might smell bacon on the griddle wafting across the tide from one of the restaurants, or coffee beans roasting, or the smell of the pine logs on the wharf at Sulphur Point.

Join the Tauranga Rowing Club’s adult learn to row course. Call Richard Rennie 0274 754 256 or message him on: richard@laurichcomm.co.nz    

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