Rowing has been an integral part of the human experience for as long as there has been a need for transportation. This much-loved activity has evolved from a necessity of daily life for peasants to a social experience and sport enjoyed by the highest segments of society. Despite other sports having become synonymous with the American identity, rowing was actually one of the first sports to be officially contested between groups of competitors. Today, Americans of all ages and experience enjoy the sport for what it requires in physical conditioning and offers in social gatherings. As an official Olympic sport, rowing is also one of the competitions that is most highly regarded. Titles and bragging rights are vied for with the same level of passion that the sport inspires.
A Brief History of Rowing
The activity of rowing finds its origins as an ancient method of transportation. It was also an essential component of the earliest wars between nations. Rowing competitions have existed since antiquity. As rowing from one location to another could be physically taxing and take much time, those engaged in the activity would often bet on which boat would arrive at its destination first. It’s from these humble beginnings that the modern iteration of the sport, first appearing in the 19th century, was born.
The Modern Sport
While not much has changed in terms of the activity of rowing, the reverence bestowed upon it by participants and fans of the sport has increased. In the mid-19th century, rowing competitions became a fun reprieve for those who made their living as ferrymen and personal transport providers along the River Thames. Since then, fans of the contemporary sport have watched thousands of races take place on the same river. The Henley Royal Regatta, which takes places every year on the River Thames, is arguably the most famous rowing competition in the world. The regatta is also known for its prominence in society, and tradition often requires that spectators show respect for the sport by adhering to a formal dress code. In the United States, rowing is a sport and pastime popular in East Coast cities, such as Boston and New York.
The type of equipment used in rowing can depend on the type of sculling participants engage in. Typically, a rowing boat is referred to as a “shell.” Modern rowing equipment often incorporates safety devices like a bowball, which is designed to minimize damage to other boats if contact is made, and a fin, which can help boats to stay on track while moving. Two-oared sculling requires that each participant uses two oars, while competitors in single-oar sculling only need one oar. In addition, the physical method of rowing can differ depending on whether participants use one or two oars in competition. Single-oar competitors often use more of a sweeping motion to move the vessel though the water.
The Detroit Boat Club, founded in 1839, bears the distinction of being the first rowing club to appear in the United States. But the sport quickly gained traction among other segments of the nation. Yale University was the site of the first rowing club designed for students, starting in 1843, and the enthusiasm for rowing clubs spread among colleges, universities, and high schools. Rowing gained such popularity that it became one of the first sports in which colleges competed against each other for a title. Today, rowing clubs can be found in all but seven of the 50 states and organizations exist for rowers of all stripes of life, from children to seasoned professionals.
The Olympics and Rowing
At the turn of the 20th century, rowing officially became part of the Olympic Games. It’s considered to be one of the original sports of this international competition. Starting in 1920, the United States enjoyed a 36-year gold medal winning streak in the men’s eight division. While women have been participating in rowing races for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the Olympic Games allowed them to compete. Since then, women from the United States have taken home the gold at the Olympics, contributing to the United States’ impressive performances and reputation as a leading competitor in the amateur sport of rowing.