Over 800,000 people in England row – either indoors or on the water, according to the latest figures from Sport England.  Despite this, the sport appears to have an image problem as being out of touch and elitist.   

I took up rowing a couple of years ago, at a summer course and got the bug for the sport.  It’s enjoyable, makes you feel good and gives you a sense of community. Now, nearly every weekend, I row on The Thames, in the freezing cold or in the blistering sun. Either way it’s exhilarating.

Andrew Hall, a rowing coach who works at a club on the Thames says the benefits of rowing are many and varied “This nation, like many others, is struggling to get people active and rowing provides a full body workout. Rowing is also a sport that breaks down the barriers of gender and age and people of all ages can row from 10-100+. Many clubs have excellent facilities with equipment comparable to a good high street gym, but at a much more reasonable price.”

Rowing dates back to Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. It began in England as early as the 13thcentury when barges and small boats would sail up and down the Thames transporting passengers.  Most famously, rowing has acquired its popularity since the 1820s when the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race occurred in the 1839 Henley Regatta.

The term rowing refers to the use of a single oar grasped in both hands which is known as sweeping, while sculling involves the use of two oars grasped in each hand. Boats can range from single skulls to eights.

Rowing has a multitude of social and health benefits as well as helping people to develop their adventurous side and build confidence. Many rowing clubs will have boathouses where the club member can come together to train and to socialise on a weekly or even a daily basis. It builds a sense of community and trust that is vital to the sport itself. In addition, rowing promotes teamwork and fellowship that extends not just to the rowers but also the coaches and all who participate within the club.

Aside from developing social wellbeing it is well known that rowing has numerous health benefits. Rowing works nearly all of the muscle groups and helps to develop your overall fitness. Though these benefits do come at a cost. Rowing is known to be one of the most physically demanding sports and in order to do well rowers usually engage in a combination of land and water training sessions. 

In all, rowing not only develops your sense of self-worth and happiness, but scientific evidence demonstrates the lessened chance of developing an illness or disease. According to figures from the NHS, exercise can reduce the risk of major illnesses such as heart disesase, stroke, type2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50%.  It can also reduce the risk of early death by 30%. 

Meanwhile rowing is a sport that provides countless chances for adventures.  James Cracknell is the perfect example of a British rower who has harnessed his skills to become more adventurous, taking on mammoth challenges. For example, James Cracknell along with his teammate Ben Fogle completed the gruelling Atlantic rowing race in 2005-2006. This race was a test of their endurance and fitness. Therefore, demonstrating the adventures that rowing can take you on.

And the elitist image problem is starting to be addressed.  British Rowing has launched its 2019-2023 School Age Rowing Strategy to help the sport become open to all and grow grassroots participation.

From my experience, rowing should become more of a universal sport, because its social and health benefits cannot be underestimated. Finally, the true ethos of rowing comes from the winner of six Olympic Medals Sir Steve Redgrave who says “Not everyone can be an Olympic Champion. Not everyone can be the best in their field. But we can be better than we are. We can all improve and look for our own personal bests”.

Eleanor Goldby