Cold weather kept the Long Lake rowing crew indoors to start the spring, but the club's high school rowers did their best to bring the water inside.
Working in sync, the high schoolers pulled and pushed on a fleet of rowing machines one Saturday morning and produced a collective whirl that sounded like waves crashing on a shore. It's the closest thing the group had to actual water until putting its boats in on Tuesday, something the rowers were looking forward to for weeks.
"This is fun but when you get on the water, there's more conditions to worry about and it's just a lot more fun," freshman Andy Berrell said.
The club, one of just a few in Minnesota, boasts about 25 high school members in its juniors program and rows outdoors at nearby Long Lake. It also offers rowing to adults and has a collegiate summer program. Since it began in 2014 its numbers have continued to grow.
The club teaches introductory rowing classes through Orono, Wayzata and Westonka community education. But most of the high schoolers in its program come in with no experience.
"That levels the playing field a lot," coach Nicholas Miller said. "Everyone comes in fresh, with an open mind. There's no reason to look down on anyone because nobody has done it before, which I think helps a ton."
Despite many of its members starting without experience, the club has two graduates on the Gophers women's rowing team this year. Two of its rowers will compete collegiately next year. Emily Stinebaugh is heading to Notre Dame and George Esau is going to Washington. Both are Orono seniors.
Stinebaugh started as a freshman like many of the team's rowers. One of the first skills Miller teaches is pace control. Beginners often start by rowing as hard as they can before tiring out after about 40 seconds.
Rowers also learn to balance their boat, whether it's their own or one of the club's 22 one- or two-person crafts available to members.
"I had about five capsizes before I really got the hang of it. The boats aren't that stable," freshman Cameron Davison said. "[But] it's nice to be refreshed by the water."
Eventually, the capsizing stops and the rowers hone their technique through hours of time on the water. They practice five days a week during the school year. In the summer, morning practices are added to four of those days.
Long Lake provides a good practice course because it is about 2 kilometers, or the average distance of a regulation rowing course. The group rows 8 to 14 kilometers a practice, including a warmup and a cool down. Every Tuesday features a 10-kilometer race.
"It's hard at first, at the beginning of the season I was kind of scared for all the workouts and [work on the machines]," freshman Anna-Maya Sipila said. "But it's not that hard when you get the hang of it. It's fun."
The group travels to all its regattas, which Miller said function like large track meets. It will row in Ontario, Ohio and possibly New Jersey this year. At last year's Midwest Regional Championships in Ohio, the team had four rowers place, and now-Gophers rower Olivia Zoner won gold.
A few of the rowers use the sport to cross-train for sports like skiing and swimming, but many of the racers have also found a unique home in the sport.
"It draws people in. It's made for people who don't fit in other places," Miller said. "There's something that's welcoming and homey about rowing. There is a place for you regardless of who you are or how you got there. Not every sport can offer that."
Benjamin Gotz is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.