Sunday, December 20, 2015

The time has come

Toki kitaru

Rowing Ruminations, Part Seven

(No book spoilers, some rowing)

The rowing event for our league my first year was held in a rather rural area. This was the only time we took our boats to a race that year. We didn’t have a rowing trailer, or a truck, so we hired a trailer truck and driver (you need a special license to drive anything with a trailer in Japan) and loaded all our boats on that. The riggers (removed from the boats) were wrapped with old blankets and tape and loaded on the trailer. The knuckles (there were three that year) were loaded flat on the boat, upside down, with the riggers removed. The coxed four was longer than the trailer, and the truck driver attached a red flag to the bow ball and stern, like traffic regulations required overhanging objects to have.

It took about four or five hours to get to the little village where the race venue was. We always travelled on our own cars. The rule of thumb was that the coxswains would drive, but I managed to get out of that one the whole time I was in crew. Maybe they saw my coxing and decided they didn’t want to deal with my driving. We’d strap the oars to the ski carriers using old bicycle inner tubes. The upperclassmen explained to me how tightly to pull and how to tie the knots that were most secure. I understood all of it in theory and probably could teach someone how to do it, but I couldn’t actually do it myself because my arms and the rest of me were too short and I didn’t have enough upper body strength.

We stayed in a place overlooking the river that week. The nearest train station was a few miles away. There was no escape. The rowers were getting more and more stressed. The coxswains were still cutting weight (other than yours truly. To this day, I do not get the whole coxswain cutting weight thing. Seriously. If the lightest cox is the best cox, they should have thrown me in that first varsity seat every single year). The rule was that we couldn’t use the AC (the theory was that it would get us used to the summer temperatures and humidity) but some of them would slip into their cars, crank up (or would that be crank down?) the AC, and get their nicotine fix.

We were the first school to arrive, but gradually the other schools appeared with their boats. I was impressed with how many people were rowing. I was also impressed that the local high schools had crew programs as well. The high school students were so cute and disciplined and showed us respect, (seniority and all that), but on the water they were really really fast.

One hot day, the guys on my boat took their shirts off halfway through practice. I didn’t think much of it but suddenly we heard over the loudspeakers “knuckle four with red blades! Knuckle four with red blades! Please put your shirts on!” After we docked, we were told that we were supposed to set a good example for the high school students and shirts should be kept on at all times. Four college guys were shamed for rowing without their shirts on a hot summer day. It’s a Japan thing, I guess.

(Now, if it had been yours truly rowing topless, on the other hand…)

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