Dougu ni suite
Rowing Ruminations Part 12
(No book spoilers, just a lot of details about stuff that happened in the 20th century)
The four we used that year was a wood kikakutei (規格艇), or standard boat. The other two coxed fours in our boathouse were made-to-order carbon fiber boats (I think they were Kuwano boats, but I’m not sure). They were both sternloaders, that is, yours truly sitting in the back of the boat, facing the four rowers. Bowloader fours, as in, the coxswain lying down at the front of the boat, facing away from the rowers, had yet to become a thing. Plus, we never could afford new boats anyway. Bowloaders had the advantage of increased stability (the cox lies down, lowering the center of gravity) and decreased wind resistance. They were also a new development, which meant if you saw one in the mid 90s it was lighter and sturdier due to innovations in construction. We drooled when one of the three schools got one from Filippi. Rumor had it they’d sold their blood.
The first varsity four was your garden variety late 80’s carbon fiber sternloader coxed four. There were probably minor adjustments in seat rail length and cox seat size, but they were well within what would be considered realistic in Japan. The second varsity four was an interesting creature. For starters, it was built for a coxswain that was about 5’11”. I coxed in it a few times in fall when we did mixed lineups, and I’d slosh around in the seat at anything above 24 strokes per minute because my legs were too short to brace against anything. I am not sure that is the reason I never coxed the second varsity boat for a full season. Another thing about that boat was that it was very flexible. If the boat weren’t set (moving nicely balanced without tipping to one side or the other), which happened quite frequently in fall, you could actually tell that the boat was twisting.
The two varsity fours and the varsity knuckle had carbon fiber Concept tulip blade oars. (Tulip blade: oars with blades shaped like, well, what you think of when you think of an oar: symmetric, spoon shaped, like a tulip petal. Modern competitive rowing oars have blades shaped like hatchets. Cue “10 miles in the snow barefoot, uphill both ways” jokes.) The novices used wood tulip blades. We’d switch to hatchet blades within the next couple of years. When we got new oars, we’d file down the handles until they were narrow enough for our rowers to get their hands around them.
One tool we had that was a sign of the times was what we called “バック台 (bakkudai).” This translates into “back boards.” I’ve never seen any reference to them in English rowing web pages, but they figure in the rowing themed novel that best reflects my rowing experience, 頑張っていきまっしょい (Ganbatte ikimassyoi. Never translated to English, but it should be! There was also a movie and a TV series. Cutest girl stroke ever, both versions! In the movie, the actresses had zero rowing experience, which means the rowing scenes are actual novice rowers on knuckles handling wood tulip blades, so it’s dually realistic.)
(The girls’ school uniforms look a little like the ones for my HS in Japan. They are so unflattering, but Stroke looks cute in hers. The only thing wrong with the movie is that Stroke is Just. So. Cute. In the book, she’s minimal crewcest risk.)
“Bakkudai” were a staple of Japanese rowing until at least the early ‘90s. They were seat rails and foot stretchers fixed to a wooden frame, with a sliding seat. It was basically an erg without the resistance. You held a stick about the width of an oar handle in your hands, and went through the motions of a rowing stroke. Sometimes you’d line up with the rest of your boat, and try to get the motions to match. The trouble was that there was no resistance, so it didn’t really simulate the work involved in rowing. The other problem was that unlike ergs, back boards were light, and if you kicked at the foot stretchers with any sort of force, the whole board would start sliding back and forth. We partially solved this problem by having someone else step on one end of it, but if the rower was tall and/ or had a really good forward reach, they’d whack you in the knee, boy/ girl parts, or (in my case) face. (We had ergs, but we kept them in the campus gym for afternoon practice.)