Skills: Piecing Together the Seamless Stroke

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1995

Skills: Piecing Together the Seamless Stroke
By Chris Dray

"The sculler is a skilled athlete," says Jim Joy of the craftsbury sculling school in Vermont, "and his or her sculling is an art form--beautiful, graceful, powerful, rhythmic." Unfortunately, the stroke becomes a seamless masterpiece only with practice; for beginners, it's more like painting by numbers. "It'll definitely feel awkward at first," admits Joy, who urges his students to relax and envision themselves sculling smoothly. "Just take it one phase at a time."

The Entry
Seated, and with the sliding seat as close to the stern as possible, think of a downhill skier in a tuck: back flat, knees bent deeply, shins perpendicular to the water, arms extended straight ahead. Now ease the oars down. "Let the blades take care of themselves," says Joy. "They'll enter the water at the proper angle."

The Drive
"Now the body should unfold," says Joy. Initiate the drive with your legs by "standing" out of the crouched position. As the seat slides and your legs straighten, start pulling toward the bow with your trunk; the arms and hands should follow and remain at a constant level. Once your legs are straight, complete the drive by leaning back and pulling the handles to your chest. To keep the motion smooth, maintain constant pressure.

The Release
"To the casual observer, there's only one movement here," says Joy. "Actually, there are five." With the drive finished and your body fully extended backward, lift the blades from the water with a slight downward push on the handles while simultaneously rotating the handles forward onto your fingers to keep the blades from feathering underwater. Now start sternward by extending your arms forward, pivoting your trunk forward, and letting your knees rise and the seat move up.

The Recovery
While you're enjoying the fruits of your labor, Joy emphasizes that you should be light on your seat as you slide. Let your thighs come up to your chest, and angle your extended arms slightly downward from your shoulders. Getting in position for the next stroke should take longer than the stroke itself, but not so long that the shell slows down. As Joy says, "Timing is power."

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