Rowing requires more than just muscle, novices find

In the quiet, early morning hours, oars slip cleanly in and out of Lake Sammamish. A team of master rowers powerfully propels a shell across the water.

In the quiet, early morning hours, oars slip cleanly in and out of Lake Sammamish. A team of master rowers powerfully propels a shell across the water.

Crew offers rowers the chance to match strength against the resistance of the water — and other teams, of course.

But for the novice rowers taking summer courses through the Sammamish Rowing Association, it’s also about experiencing a “different” kind of sport, meeting new people and just having fun.

“I have a bunch of friends who do rowing,” said 16-year-old Kyle McDonnell, who will be a senior at Eastlake High School this fall. “They told me about it on Facebook and said you have a good time and get into shape.”

Earlier this week, McDonnell and a group of about 30 first-timers met with coaches Devon Carroll and Zach Konsin at SRA’s boathouse on the edge of Marymoor Park to learn the basics. The association offers three sessions of three-week courses this summer

First up was a series of drills on the ergometer — or “erg” — a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion.

“You’re sliding back to the catch slower than you go to the release,” Carroll advised. “You want to take it nice and slow — that’s your break, believe me.”

After a bit of work on the ergs, focusing on sitting up tall, pushing with their legs and engaging their abdominal muscles, it was time for a friendly relay competition. Working in four groups, the teens swapped out turns on the erg, rowing toward a team goal of 4,000 meters.

Later in the morning, the group learned about the different types of boats, how to carry a boat and how to put them in and out of the water. Taking turns again, they sat in two eight-person shells and tried putting the oars in the water.

“The kids who do well here and excel will hopefully stay with the program in the fall,” said Carroll, whose regular-season novice teams placed first and second at Junior Nationals this year.

Kaitlyn Absher, 15, said she thinks the most challenging aspect of rowing for her will be building upper body strength. The soon-to-be Mount Si sophomore said she has played soccer and softball and loves to ride dirt bikes. Her best friend introduced her to rowing.

“She tried it and said you get to meet lots of new people and that it’s lots of fun,” Absher said.

President of the SRA board, Tony Andrews, said the three-week sessions were designed to give people a chance to try out the sport without a major commitment.

“We hope to get a lot of these kids hooked on it and continue in the fall,” Andrews said, noting that the regular season requires much more time and dedication.

A member of the more experienced boys team, Snohomish resident Parker McPhetridge, 16, said he got into rowing about four years ago after hearing about it from his dad’s coworker.

“It’s very intense. It requires a lot of physical endurance and strength — and mental toughness, too,” McPhetridge said.

The association also offers adult teams — for those with less and those with more experience. Anyone can take a course without becoming a member of the association and paying dues.

“We’ve tried to keep it really accessible and community-oriented,” he said.

Andrews said he started rowing because he had been running and injured his knee, so he was looking for a low-impact sport.

“It’s a great full-body workout but doesn’t stress the knees.”

The SRA was founded in the fall of 1995 and began operating in the spring of 1996 at Idylwood Park. The organization moved to an abandoned boathouse in Marymoor Park in 1997.

Rowing is growing nationwide, and the Sammamish Rowing Association is one of the largest rowing organizations in the Northwest.

“For a lot of people, it’s just fun to be on the water,” Andrews said.

Put your oar in

The Sammamish Rowing Association is hosting a “Row for a Day” class from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 26. The class is open to anyone 13 and older; cost is $35. For more information or to register, visit