learning to row | Hamilton, Ontario

A week ago I waited at the water’s edge, while Trent went sailing on his birthday. As I sat, a crew of rowers cascaded before me, bringing their boats to the lake. With practice and precision they launched their vessels and worked as one, stealthily gliding over the surface of the water. Observing their elegant movements, I longed to join them.

learning to row


I arrive, fresh and excited, the newest motivated member of the Hamilton Learn-to-Row class. My first lesson includes a 45-minute safety video, practice on an erg machine and time in the rowing tank. I imbibe* all that I can, taking notes and jotting down new rowing vocabulary. Meanwhile, two younger participants (whose parents have prompted their presence) jab each other in jest behind the instructors back.

learning to row

The following day I’m fifteen minutes early for class. When my rowing partner arrives, we warm up on the erg and prepare our equipment. Neither of us has any experience, which makes us equally unqualified for the task we are about to undertake. Cradling the boat upon our shoulders, we traverse the path to the loading docks. I glance to the left and see the grassy knoll where I sat one-week prior, dreaming of this very moment. As we push off from the dock, and drift away from shore, I realize that I’ve just crossed off a bucket-list item whose ink hardly had time to dry on the page.

learning to row


I am a stranger in these parts, yet the water receives me as a friend. My initial strokes are self-conscious and timid, but inside I am celebrating. Our coach paces herself, matching our speed from her boat, while offering encouragement and correction through her megaphone. We are too inexperienced to row together. So instead, my partner and I take turns balancing the boat with our oars on the water, while the other practices proper stroking technique.

It’s a dance on the water between plunging oars, sliding seats and a liquid surface. Performed properly, the result is elegant. Done incorrectly, the consequence is capsizing. For the first hour, we gain confidence as we trade turns cutting through the water’s silky surface.

learning to row

Our coach, encouraged by our progress, instructs us to stroke simultaneously as a team. The result brings on a mixture of laughter and frustration. We cannot match each other’s strokes and our boat flips, sending us into a baptism of humility. Our feeble attempts to right the boat and climb back in are equally entertaining as we proceed to flip the boat a second time. With the assistance of our coach we manage to regain our proper positions–upright in our seats, oars in hand, feet strapped in. Undaunted yet damp, we finish the evening tired and happy. At home I enjoy a hot shower followed by an ice bath for my bruised elbow. I fall asleep thinking about the next night out on the water.


The following evening, we approach the docks with confidence. We’ve been here before. We know what to do. Launching the boat, we successfully move away from the shore, turn the boat, and take our position. Our cuts into the water are purposeful and decisive. When our coach asks us to row together, we manage twenty strokes before losing our rhythm.

A night without overturning however is not to be ours. We lose our balance and the slow sideways flip of the boat sends us, once again, plunging into the depths of Lake Ontario. Righting ourselves, we joke about our weaknesses and vow to stay upright for the remainder of the lesson.

As our coach offers corrective encouragement, the serene beauty enveloping the bay distracts me. Hanging low on the horizon, the sun is shrouded behind the clouds. Streaks of light escape the perimeter and form a ribbon of pinkish gold, reflected off the surface of the lake. In the distance, sailboats move stealthily while we glide along the surface of the water, our oars rhythmically breaking the silence.

learning to row

My back faces the bow of the boat and I marvel at this sport that requires intense effort to move in a direction veiled from my immediate view. The last 18 days broke down in Ontario has been much like my rowing experience. We’ve been placed in a new environment and are moving forward in faith. Our trust in God to guide and lead us gives comfort and our propensity to complain brings correction. All the while we move in a direction known to God alone.

Imbibe |imˈbīb|: absorb or assimilate (ideas or knowledge): I imbibe all that I can, taking notes and jotting down new rowing vocabulary.


There are several types of rowing boats: singles (which weigh about 35 lbs), doubles (65 lbs), quads (120 lbs) and eights (200 lbs).

A new eight boat (this is a boat that seats 8 rowers) will cost about $30,000. A new single boat, about $10,000. This does not include the price of the oars which run about $500 per set of 2.

The seats slide back and forth on rollers in order to allow you to utilize your leg strength to row. However, there are boats that are specially designed for those without full use of their legs which do not have sliding seats.

There are two types of rowing, differing on how many oars are in use. Rowing in which each person uses two oars (each about 9.5′ long) is called sculling. Sweep rowing involves one long oar (about 12.5′ long) per rower.

Did I miss anything you are curious about? What activity is on your bucket list? Have you ever rowed? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment below!

2 thoughts on “learning to row | Hamilton, Ontario”

  1. I love how you guys are taking full advantage of your unexpected stay. I have always wanted to surf. We’re finally in a place where learning to surf is actually a possibility. I guess it’s time to look into it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Yes! Surf! And please tell me all about it! We were in Hawaii two years ago and our time was too limited but I wanted to learn to surf as well. Maybe someday soon!😊

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