Games Rowers Play

Rowing seems like an easy and relatively straightforward game. And it is. You have to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, simple right? The only problem with the Point A-Point B idea is that it negates the playing field that we rowers “play” on, and the different strategies we use to get from Point A to Point B.

While in a shell, I face backward, with three to seven other guys, in order to go forward. We have a relatively light and relatively loud coxswain who can steer the boat and keep us on the right pace. We have to battle different winds, currents, and various kinds of precipitation. Normally, in a distance-traveling sport (running, cross country skiing, etc.) you know what the surface will look like before you get there, but in rowing the river, lake, or ocean that you row on changes every five minutes.

I understand that many of you will be unfamiliar with rowing, and might be picturing a bunch of skinny guys in spandex in a rowboat, so this is what it should look like when we are on the water.

Just like the reading, “Games Climbers Play,” the author, Tejada-Flores, argues that it is important to keep climbing ethical as we discover new techniques, technologies, and climbing games.

Tejada-Flores argues that the elite climbers should set the ethics for future climbs. I argue that for climbing that makes sense. The best climbers should be able to do a climb with the least technological help, which makes the climbing games most challenging and most fulfilling.

In rowing, however, that doesn’t quite make sense. The most elite rower can row 2,000 meters in 5 minutes and 36.6 seconds, which is fast, very fast. I could train for the rest of my life and I would still have absolutely no chance of rowing a 2k that quickly.

Does that make my time in a 2k unethical? I don’t think so. Just because I am not as physically fit as Rob Waddell doesn’t make my slow rowing unethical. It just means I’m not going to the Olympics.

Tejada-Flores also says that the more technologies you use while climbing makes the climb easier, and is therefor unethical. I believe that in rowing this can be true. You know you are meeting a rower when you shake his/her hand and you can feel that callouses and blisters that have taken ahold of his/her palm and fingers. Why do we rowers submit ourselves to resorting to fist-bumps and the constant pain that makes it uncomfortable to hold a pencil? Because there is an unwritten rule that rowers have calloused hands, and wearing gloves or doing something that would lessen the hand pain is unethical.

In collegiate rowing if the coxswain (that relatively light and relatively loud person who steers us and keeps us on pace) does not weigh 110 pounds for women or 120 pounds for men the coxswains must hold sandbags in order to keep the playing field level. It is unethical to have someone lighter than that steering your boat because the rowers don’t have to carry as much “dead weight.”

Also, you can see that technology has influenced the way shells look. They used to be made of wood and metal, now they are made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, which is as sturdy as the older wooden models, but also far lighter. Is that an unethical advancement in technology?

I don’t think so. The races are still just as hard. You still have to compete with other rowers who want to go just as fast as you do. It would be different if only one team decided to use the new shells while everyone else was using the wooden ones. Since everyone is using the carbon-fiber shells it makes the playing field even. Therefore, I would argue it is still an ethical advancement, even though it makes going from Point A to Point B easier.

In conclusion, I believe that each sport is unique even though you may see some similarities in rules and objectives. I do not think that just because something is ethical in one sport automatically transfers over to another sport.


One comment

  1. haleyzap · October 5, 2014

    I find your blog post interesting because as I rower I never thought of how the change in technologies used in rowing is considered ethical while in climbing using extra equipment is considered unethical. Along with the change from wooden shells to carbon shelled boats there also is the use of stroke coaches and speed coaches and the structure of the oar that is always being improved. But because the fastest rowers are using more technology, it is considered ethical rather than if the middle of the pack rowers did it to make racing easier it would be unethical. At first I thought this may because rowing was a racing sport and climbing was a style/skill sport, but then I realized that the same ethical principles of climbing do apply to swimming. Like when swimmers started wearing the fast-skin suits everyone was becoming so fast breaking all past world records that they made racing in certain materials or lengths illegal, therefore unethical to use faster technology.


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