The Mississippi River was smooth as glass, and yet we were barely moving on the boat.
As our first time rowing on the water, we clumsily tried to synchronize our strokes and maneuver the long oars, barely leaving the view of the dock outside the Minneapolis Rowing Club. But the club’s three-hour “Rowing Adventure” class, which started in 2016, was meant to give rowing rookies a taste of the sport.
As Patty Ohme Hansen sat at the stern as the coxswain, steering the boat, she yelled out advice. The movement is similar to doing a dead lift with weights, she explained. Use your legs. Look ahead at the person in front of you.
“Don’t look at your oar,” she yelled.
After practicing on ergometers, or “ergs,” inside the club’s riverside building, it seemed like it should be easy enough to replicate the sweep rowing technique, holding one oar with both hands in the rowing barge, a wider, stable boat they use for teaching. Not at all.
Away we went — slowly — sweating in the summer heat. The common misconception that rowing uses mostly arm muscles was quickly dispelled as my legs ached.
“You actually train every muscle in your body,” said Sabine Johnson, the program director. “It’s a sport you can do forever. I think it’s more popular because people are looking for an alternative to their sports like running and biking.”
The club, which dates to the 1880s, has more than 300 members of all ages — from 11 to 83 — and all abilities, including novice teams and competitors who travel all over to race in regattas. While rowing is an old sport, it’s gaining new popularity from indoor rowing classes to people inspired by seeing the sport in movies, books or in the Olympics.
During our class, our 10-person group spanned a wide range of ages, including a volunteer in her 70s helping coach us. The “Rowing Adventure” class, which takes place through the fall (weather permitting), is meant to give a one-day sampling of the sport on the river, while the club’s “Learn to Row” five-session course meets over 2½ weeks.
When thunderstorms rumbled overhead, we ducked inside, where Hansen gave us a tour of the $2.4 million boathouse that was built in 2002, replacing an A-frame boathouse that was burned down in by an arsonist in 1997. Hansen, a second-generation rower, pointed out a boat named after her parents, who helped establish the club.
After the storm subsided, we returned to the river to practice again. While we didn’t master rowing, we gained a new respect for the challenging sport and marveled at the stunning views — the mighty Mississippi tamely lapping at the tree-covered bluffs, making it feel at times like we were in the middle of nowhere, not the middle of Minneapolis.
We may not have made it far, but the class gave us a new perspective of the river and a window into the rowing world.
“Rowing Adventure” classes: The Minneapolis Rowing Club holds the classes on Saturdays and Sundays through the fall, weather-permitting.
Cost: $75 per person.
Details: The Minneapolis club is located along the river at 2968 West River Pkwy. For a full schedule and to sign up, go to mplsrowing.org.