Holding the Sweep Oar

Some call it “grip.” But that’s the last thing you should do when handling the oar.

By Rich Davis

You can’t row well if you can’t hold on to the oar properly—using the hands to feather, square, place the blade, and maintain balance. And while we often refer to this aspect of the stroke as “grip,” you’re not actually gripping the oar, but rather holding it as you would a suitcase. A tight grip makes turning difficult and often leads to tightness in the forearms. Ideally, your hands should be two hand widths apart, with your pinky finger at the end of the handle and your inside hand just short of where the handle begins to widen. A slight squeeze is all you need to perform the squaring and feathering motions.

You are not actually gripping the oar, but holding it as you would a suitcase.

To step your blade out of the water, push down with the outside hand from the elbow while keeping your shoulders relaxed. To feather, turn the handle with the inside hand enough to have the flat side of the sleeve slide down the flat back of the oarlock. Most sweep rowers do this by turning and dropping their inside wrist. For a clean release, draw the handle toward the bottom of your rib cage, ending just short of the body. As you roll up to the catch, use a slight lift of the shoulders to place the blade in the water.

  • Hands are positioned two hand-widths apart
  • The outside hand is relaxed while the inside hand feathers
  • The feathering and extraction of the blade happen simultaneously
  • Shoulders should be relaxed
  • Hands draw to the bottom of the rib cage, allowing enough room for the release
  • Pinky finger at butt of handle
  • Outside hand just short of the widening of the handle
  • Thumbs under the handle

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January 2014 | Volume 20 Number 12