Do you play crew?” “So do you go crewing every single morning?” These are two of the most common questions I’ve been asked in the years that I’ve been on the UR crew team, which is basically since I got here three years ago. That and “Is it true you have to wake up at 4 a.m. 7 days a week?”

Here’s a little attempt to provide some insight into the sport of competitive rowing at UR, and correct both misconceptions and bad English.

First, the most annoying ? “crewing” is not a word. And “crew” is not a verb, either. I do not crew nor go crewing ? I row. Crew is one name for the sport of rowing, specific to a certain kind of boat, racing shells, and that’s it.

Second, no one plays crew. It’s not a game, there are no points scored in rowing. It’s like track, you try to get from point A to point B before the other guy does. It’s a race.

So what do we actually do? The boats we use are nothing like the rowboats we all know. An eight man boat, or shell as they’re also called, is on average 58 feet long and about 2 feet wide at the mid-section. The oars we use are carbon fiber and 12 feet long. In “sweep rowing” ? all collegiate competition is sweep ? each rower has one oar. One person is the coxwain, who sits in the stern and steers the thing.

No, they do not yell “stroke, stroke” incessantly. Any coxwain who did so for an entire practice would be lynched on the dock. They motivate, steer and help correct the technique.

Rowers tie their feet into fixed shoes in the boat, and sit on a sliding seat, so that they really rely on their legs for most of the power behind the oar, and not the arms. The whole secret to rowing fast is combining being able to row well with power, being able to “set” the boat and glide smoothly without falling to one side or the other and without the oars touching the water except while you’re pulling on it.

Crew definitely attracts a unique kind of person ? the kind who’s willing to get up early enough for a 6 a.m. practice most mornings, and 9 a.m. on Saturdays. 4 a.m. is just a rumor. Who is willing to practice from Sept. 1 right through June 1, isn’t grossed out by blisters and torn skin and really doesn’t mind spending several months in Goergen Athletic Center doing circuits and hours on rowing machines, a.k.a. ergometers or ergs, going nowhere. Oh, and slight masochistic tendencies are encouraged.

In the fall we race “head races,” which are usually 2 or 3 miles long. Those take about 12-16 minutes to complete in the men’s eight. Boats are timed individually from the start to the finish, so you get a chance to catch people and pass them, also to crash into bridges and other boats.

The Stonehurst Regatta on Meliora Weekend is one such race, as is the Head of the Charles in Boston where we competed a week and a half ago. They’re loads of fun. In the springtime we race sprints, which are 2000-meter races on a dead straight course.

These take about 6 minutes, which makes them long enough to be aerobic, but short enough that pacing yourself will likely result is your finishing last with energy to spare. They are without a doubt the most exhilarating fun to be had anywhere.

Being a club sport just means that we get to practice and race longer. There is no difference in competition between the clubs and the rest of Div. II and III varsity teams, and everyone is welcome to join.

Galen can be reached at

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