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Rowing at Easton Point

Sep 02, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By Penelope Cripps Dwyer

The alarm goes off, and there is no hitting the snooze button. Rodney Tong slips quietly out of bed, and not wanting to wake his wife, he rummages around with only a dim nightlight for his stretch shorts and T-shirt, set aside on top of the dresser. He finds shoes that slip easily on and off. Then he grabs three hardboiled eggs for some protein and a cup of coffee to go, as he tiptoes through the kitchen. His headlamp is hanging by the back door.

The drive is dark and not a soul on the road; he looks out only for deer or other animals caught off guard in the still of the wee hours. Fifteen minutes later, at 5:30 a.m., when he rolls into Evergreen at Easton Point, there are already a few other rowers assembled. Several headlamps are pointing toward the river, and like a scene from a backwater horror film, the bodies move silently, en masse from their cars across the dewy grass. The owls are hooting, and an ever-so-slight glow peers through the mist, over the eastern horizon, making a silhouette of the trees. It’s just a hint of sunrise, as there is still a half hour yet to go.

The routine is as rote as taking a shower, which he will get to later in the morning. Right now, there is a discernable excitement in the faces shining from each other’s lights as they converge. “Good Day,” says Tong, 65, and the one native New Zealander amongst the group. “How’s the tide?” someone else asks, but no one stops his or her journey; they know where they are positioned and what needs to be done. “OK, ready all,” yells a coxswain, “hands on and roll in two,” as an eight-person Kevlar shell, some 240 pounds, flips over and into its slings like it’s nothing more than Styrofoam. Shoes are set, riggers adjusted, and the shells are lifted overhead as all boats are carried down to the dock.

Rowing is a sport of heart and soul. Like Tong, many of us are hooked. Yes, there is a 7 a.m. rowing schedule. I’ll take that extra hour’s sleep in a pinch, but those who are bitten by the bug know there’s no more beautiful a time to row than the early hours as day breaks, when the winds are mostly still, and the syncopation of a set boat cuts through the flat water, leaving nothing but soft puddles behind.  

Shells are configured to a style of boat based on the number of people. The Eastern Shore Community Rowers, Talbot County’s new adult rowing program, has an ever-growing fleet, consisting of eight-, four-, and two-rower teams and an assortment of single rowers. The goal is to have a small but substantive variety for both racing and recreational rowing. 

Beside the unequalled beauty of being on the Tred Avon River early in the morning, one of the many other advantages is that you can row at any age. The Head of the Charles, our nation’s largest annual regatta in Boston, touts 11,000 participants ranging from 14-years-old to 85. Our national USRowing estimates that of its more than 80,000 members, 37 percent are “masters,” meaning adult rowers, and over 15 percent are over 55.

Another plus is that rowing is both a team sport and a solitary practice. Like Tong says, “you’ll get keel-hauled by your mates the next day—so there is real incentive to show up.” Yet a better group of folks you’ll never know. “The camaraderie is one of the most unique I’ve ever experienced,” explains architect Mitch Hager, 44, a new rower who became hooked immediately. “There are few sports where you share equally with men and women of all ages.” 

Likewise, the meditative calm of rowing a single has its advantages too. Not much can beat taking a shell out on one’s own and propelling across the water like a water bug, soundless but for the soft splash of the catch and smooth slide of your seat. Longtime Tai Chi and yoga practitioner and ESCRowers Board Treasurer, Howard Parks, encourages rowing for the mental as well as the physical health. “Rowing compliments yoga,” he says. “It strengthens your body and encourages mindfulness. To row well, your mind has to be with your oar in the boat; at the same time, you can lose yourself on a beautiful stretch of river.”

Christina Drostin rowed in college. Now a mother and full-time physician, she finds the early morning row a perfect workout. “Rowing is a core exercise,” she says. “It looks like an upper body sport, but in fact you row from your legs and core first, then follow through with body and arms. It builds muscle, bone strength, and coordination, and isn’t as hard on the knees as other sports.”

Eastern Shore Community Rowers share a floating dock with the youth group, Freedom Rowers, who are hosted by the wellness center at Evergreen Easton Point on Port Street. The high school rowers take to the water after school, while the adults row two sessions in the morning. Both morning rows run a little over an hour, and while both sessions require experience, ESCRowers’ three certified coaches are highly encouraging, the members are very welcoming, and the club offers Learn-to-Row clinics. There’s still time to try it out with the three-day clinics or with a Free Learn-to-Row session on the first Saturdays of each month through November. 

So, if you are ever out by Easton Point Marina early in the morning, wondering what those people are doing, moving stealth-mode through the morning mist, well perhaps you might give rowing a try.  For more information, visit ESCRowers.org