One can't help but be somewhat
puzzled when it comes to understanding indoor rowing. What other
sport has you sitting on a machine,
staring obsessively at a small screen,
moving absolutely nowhere and
finishing in an over-exhausted heap
on the floor afterwards, your lungs
heaving like they want to explode
out of your chest? Fun, right?
But from Hong Kong to Boston, Copenhagen to Dubai, Amsterdam to Mexico,
over the winter barely a weekend went by
when an indoor rowing competition couldn't
be found somewhere in the world. Indoor
rowing has grown from a tool for off-the-water training for the serious rower to a
sport in its own right.
taking post-Olympic breaks, the men's field
was left open to non-water rower Graham
Benton to become the fastest on the day.
Benton is the quintessential non-water rowing indoor rower. A self-professed gym rat,
Benton entered his gym's indoor rowing
competition a few years ago "for fun" and not
only won it, but his time of 6. 35 ranked him
250th in the world. Benton was hooked and
now has an indoor rowing coach, Eddie
Fletcher, who has never set foot in a boat
Concept2 representative Robert Brody has
been involved with indoor rowing for 20
years and has witnessed the growth of the
non-specialist rower. "Indoor rowing has
become a sport in its own right," he says.
"I think it's a great trend but I don’t think it
will take the place of on-the-water rowing."
Rowing Championships in February.
"What's in the water in New Zealand,"
was the main comment after New
Zealand pulled off a clean sweep in the
open women's event. World record
holder Georgina Evers-Swindell finished
ahead of her sister Caroline with Paula
Twining completing the Kiwi triple-header. George Bridgewater held up the
men's side for New Zealand finishing
second to defending title holder Pavel
Shurmei of Belarus.
But some of the most exciting competition
occurred in the lightweight men's 30 - 39
year age group when world record holder
Thomas Ebert of Denmark finished in a
dead heat with US Olympian Greg Ruckman
with three-time Olympian Ingo Euler of
Germany taking third spot.
The indoor rowing machine can look back
to humble beginnings in the late 1970s. In
a country barn in Vermont, USA, Olympic
rowers Dick and Pete Dreissigacker developed the Model A "ergometer" to help
keep rowing training alive through the
frozen winter months.
Meanwhile, at the British Champs, Olympic
silver medallist Debbie Flood held up
the on-the-water side of rowers finishing
as the fastest woman.
Indoor rowing then moved on to Amsterdam
for year two of the Euro Open. One thousand six hundred competitors later Latvia's
Kristaps Bokums nailed the fastest time.
Bokums was the only rower to finish under
5.50 in the event dominated by Dutch competitors. Hurnet Dekkers of the Netherlands
secured the top women's ranking although
in a time slower than her personal best.
The phenomenon of non-water rowing
ergers was noted by World Champs
Commodore Kirk Summerville when
he commented on these "strange and
mysterious forces" in his welcoming
speech: "I can't pretend to understand
these forces - these people who have yet
to take a stroke on the water."
The ergometer has developed and improved
through four stages to Concept2's current
Model D. The standard tool for judging a
rower's speed over 2,000 metres, it has
become a fixture in boathouses and gymnasiums around the world.
The root of erg racing goes back to a group
of American rowers in Boston who wanted
to break the monotony of winter training.
Following the motto "too much is enough"
the competition known as CRASH B's –
now known to many as the World Indoor
Rowing Championships – promised to
"maintain an untraditional irreverence to
all things that are not fun."
Mexico staged its first ever indoor rowing
regatta last December. Organiser Santiago
Fuentes coordinated gyms and indoor rowing businesses from across the country with
competitors racing each other from their
different locations via telephone links. "Just
one competitor was an on-water rower,"
says Fuentes, "But he didn't win his
The season wrapped up in March with
what began as a Danish initiative to keep
rowers active over the winter months and
has now turned into a worldwide indoor
rowing event. Denmark's Indoor Rowing
Grand Prix's five-round tournament has
results submitted electronically so that
competitors can race anywhere in the world.
The Grand Prix went international for
the first time this season and although
still dominated by Denmark, competitors
from the Czech Republic to the Channel
Other nations across the globe did not want
to miss out on this fun and now all major
rowing nations – and numerous non-major ones – hold national championships
on the erg.
The season highlight then brought 20
countries to Boston for the World Indoor
As rowers return to the water, the non-water rowing indoor rower will continue
to keep the erg wheel spinning year-round. Fun, right?
This year's indoor rowing season began as
the Northern Hemisphere winter started
to force rowers inside.
Starting with the British Indoor Rowing
Championships in November, the competition drew attention to the growing participation of the non-water rower – the indoor
rower who has never stepped into a boat.
With many national team members still