For the Beauty of It - Judah Grossman, RCRC Masters Member
If you’ve ever taken the time to inspect a puddle or a slow-moving creek, then you’ve probably seen water striders — twig-like insects balanced on the surface, legs dimpling the water as they skitter around. That grace in miniature — gliding along the intersection between water and sky — hints at a similar beauty that drew me and my daughter to explore rowing in the Delta, a great watery expanse in our collective backyard.
When we began rowing at the River City Rowing Club in West Sacramento last year, my daughter at thirteen and me at forty-six, we shared a fascination for this boating sport. We had read about it in Boys on a Boat and watched it in the Olympics. To my mind, the boats look like water striders writ large, but with one mind (the coxswain) coordinating eight independent legs (the rowers) to move in synergy. The fun starts on day one but learning to move quickly and with grace is a lifelong pursuit.
It came as a surprise to learn that the River City Rowing Club (RCRC) was situated at Lake Washington, only a 15 minute drive away. My wife and I had moved to Natomas to raise a family nearly two decades ago, felt well-acquainted with the area, but had never visited the rowing club. After hearing about RCRC from a friend, we began rowing in spring 2021 with a few private lessons and then continued with group “Learn to Row” classes in the summer.
The initiation into rowing is a humbling, heady experience. It is deliciously awkward to learn to row, like a baby giraffe taking its first lurching steps. Even getting the boats on the water poses a steep learning curve with high stakes (racing shells are beautiful and sleek but are also delicate and cost tens of thousands of dollars). Eventually, launching boats from the dock takes on the rhythm of ritual (“port rowers open oarlocks, starboard rowers secure the oars, push the boat away from the dock, stern pair set the boat, bow six row row us away…”)
Thankfully, the RCRC coaches have bucket loads of patience and experience, describing in detail how to hold the paddle, execute a stroke and work in synergy with the other boat mates. And the coxswains, the “brains” of the boat, are blessed with cool heads and loud voices.
At dinner, my daughter and I often “talk shop” and drive the rest of the family crazy while we share stories from the boat. That chatter can range from technical details, like how it felt to row starboard vs. port, or it can include random observations from the water (“the bald eagle was back in the cottonwood across the basin from the dock”...“an otter swam so close to the boat that water splashed over the gunwale,” etc.).
Recently, my daughter and I compared impressions of rowing and she shared that the community and opportunities (travel to races and college rowing programs) are big motivators for her. For me, the fitness challenge and mental growth are motivators, too. However, both of us share a deep appreciation for the beauty we find in rowing, often in unexpected places.
Rowing offers a rare portal into the beauty of the Delta, which is so near and so often unnoticed. My daughter loves the sunsets on the water and those winter months when she can even row under the early-evening stars.
For my part, I love the pre-dawn workouts when Lake Washington is stippled with industrial lights and drifts of mist transform the scene so that it feels very much like we are launching into our very own Pirates of the Caribbean adventure. Eventually the sun rises by degrees over the distant Sierra Nevada and blushing clouds warm our route back to the dock.
So yeah, we also row for the beauty of it.