After almost seven years of sculling, I thought it might be time to
revisit Steve Fairbairn. These are my notes from my last time on the
For the first time since I stepped into a boat I feel that I have
But what does this mean? How do I describe it?
In a way my sculling was so simple it all but defies description. All
I can say is that I was able to focus without distraction on "working
the oars to move the boat."
The important point here is the "without distraction." I was sculling
and nothing but sculling. There was no self-consciousness. No anxiety!
No imposition of tightly choreographed movement! There was nothing to
divert my attention from the shell and the oars and the goal, which
was smooth acceleration through the drive. I don't know how to say it
any more simply than that.
Are my feet firmly on the stretcher? At the finish are my elbows
higher than my wrists? Am I holding my back straight? Are the legs,
back and arms all finishing together? Are my shoulders down at the
catch? Do I have too much forward lean? These are the kinds of
questions I usually focus on when I am sculling. But this morning I
put away all such questions.
As I have been doing all week, I began with pause drills at the catch.
The drills are simple. Pause with blades poised over the water, allow
the shell to run underneath you, and then, as you relax, set the
blades in the water and lift the shell smoothly past them.
The Law of Easy Speed governed every drive. I think of it as Carl's
Law. "You cannot replace useful power with harder work."
"To move the body correctly, the body must move unconsciously" is one
of Steve Fairbairn's cherished notions. It, too, was *** in my
Are Carl Douglas and Steve Fairbairn right? Does their thinking
The only way to find out was to test. At the catch whenever a thought
about body movement began to divert my attention, I let it go. Then,
as I relaxed, I would set the blades in the water and try to lift the
shell smoothly past them. I focused exclusively on working the oars to
move the boat. Working harder never entered my thoughts. Only smooth
acceleration through the drive was of interest.
Eventually all anxiety about body movement vanished. All that mattered
was working the oars. The only goal was to lift the shell smoothly
past the spot where blades had been placed.
And what happened? Sculling became comparable to riding a bicycle.
Who gets on a bike and thinks about how his fingers are gripping the
handle bars? No one! Or who thinks about whether his shins are
vertical at some precise point in the stroke cycle? No one! Or who
thinks about his back, whether it is rounded or straight? No one! Or
what his legs and arms may be doing? No one! In fact, who gets on a
bike and thinks about body movements? No one! The biomechanics of
riding a bicycle are just too complicated and distracting.
And isn't Fairbairn saying that it should be the same for sculling?
"Good oarsmen concentrate on the blade, and their bodies work
As bicyclists ride bicycles without thinking about body movements, so
I sculled without thinking about mine. I cared only about "what the
blade was doing with the water and what the water was doing with the
Set the blade in the water and focus on smoothly accelerating through
the drive. Think of nothing else. The body will move naturally and
take care of itself.
At first, according to Fairbairn, your technique may appear awkward
and uncoordinated. "In time, however, you will find it smoothing out
as the draw muscles and the abdominal muscles get conditioned."
And my report? As I said, for the first time since I stepped into a
boat I feel that I have truly sculled.