The Fluid Release

The fluid release is a concept I first learned from coach Jim Joy. Below are many great points quoted from Jim Joy’s paper on “The Sculler’s Philosophy and The Whole Technique”. Jimmy refers to the release as a “critical section of the stroke cycle” that “parallels the follow through of the golf and tennis swings.” Ideas to focus on include:

  • “The hands and fingers have a light hold on the handles. The wrists are flat and exerting power through the handle.” 
  • “The trunk and legs finishing the drive phase of the stroke simultaneously form a nice 15 degree triangle beyond the perpendicular and serve as stabilizers for the arms in and out of bow.” 
  • “There is a nice flow from the elbows; the little anconeus muscle on the posterior side of the elbow joint is the activator for the release and smooth follow through actions.”

Back when I attended the Black Bear Sculling Camp, I had the pleasure of first learning the release sequence as taught by Jim Joy. Jimmy explains that there are five movements in total:

  1. “the slight drop of the hands,” 
  2. “the slight break in the wrists,” 
  3. “the arms extended,” 
  4. “the trunk moves forward through the perpendicular” 
  5. “and the seat start with the knees rising.”

“This whole movement is completed as a single quick and relaxed movement. As such it should be drilled as a whole, a quick and relaxed motion. It is highly athletic. Again, similar to the entry, it is without the ego. It has the quality of emptiness attached to it. Between these two movements, the entry and the release, completed with skill, accuracy and consistency lies our ability to develop Flow at every opportunity.“

I have found in my own sculling that the above mentioned release sequence has helped smooth out my release and in turn this allows the shell to glide more easily. Interestingly enough, the very first bullet point in this article, “The hands and fingers have a light hold on the handles”, definitely comes into play at the release.

While paying attention to both my own sculling and also observing scullers on the water, if we are not mindful, it is too often the case that we will end up trying to turn the handle while on the drive. I have found the more I allow the handles to remain out in my fingers, I have enough purchase on the handles to exert power while I allow the release to then begin with a “the slight drop of the hands”. I have heard Jimmy describe “the hands move downward slightly with the blade a quarter out of the water.” So we are trying to see just the top quarter of the blade come out of the water vertically before we begin to feather the blades.

A few additional points from Jimmy on the blades include: 

  • “The blade is positioned at blade depth when the release begins.” 
  • “The hands move downward slightly with the blade a quarter out of the water.” 
  • “At this point the feathering of the blade begins and the blade is released from the water at a forty-five degree angle to the water’s surface.” 
  • “So it is an efficient, elliptical motion and not a squared action.”

So I hope the above description helps you with gaining a more detailed understanding of the release and developing a greater sense of flow to your sculling. As always, I view sculling as a life long pursuit, so the continuous refining of the sculling stroke is our goal.

An Exercise in Self-Rescue

As the saying goes “there are two types of scullers, those who have flipped and those who will”. Since flipping over in a sculling shell will eventually happen to everyone, practicing how to get back into the shell is an important skill every sculler needs to learn. Borrowing from Troy Howell at Craftsbury, let’s think of this as “an exercise in self-rescue“.

The steps listed below are borrowed from an excellent article by Marlene Royle:

  1. Hold onto the boat once you are in the water. Never leave your boat and try to swim. The boat and oars will float you. Come up near the rigger.
  2. Stay relaxed and catch your breath.
  3. Make sure that the boat is righted with the seat up. If you rolled the boat so it is upside down, press down on the rigger nearest you to begin to roll the boat, then reach across and pull the other rigger down towards you so the boat will be right.
  4. The oar closest to you should be all the way into the oarlock and the blade flat on the water so it can support you. Hold this handle down in the boat with your hand nearest the foot stretchers.
  5. Next, you need to get the other oar handle so you can hold both handles in the bottom of the boat. You may need to jump up or reach to get the other handle but you must get both handles together in one hand before you can continue.
  6. Push your seat towards the bow.
  7. Hold both handles in your hand closest to the foot stretchers, and with your other hand reach across to the gunnel. You will need to keep pressing on the handles.
  8. Kick and jump into the boat as if you are getting out of a swimming pool onto the deck of the pool. You need to be focused on getting the weight of your hips over the boat and into the seat deck. Avoid trying to pull yourself into the boat.
  9. Once your hips are in the boat, you are stomach-down, kick again, turn and sit, letting your legs dangle over the side of the boat still. Don’t let go of your oar handles here.
  10. Raise your oar handles up to right the boat.
  11. Make sure both blades are flat on the water and you are stable.
  12. Swing your legs in the boat.
  13. Put one foot back and scoot yourself back on the seat.
  14. Put your feet back in the shoes.
  15. Practice it again!

Below are two videos that illustrated the above steps. I recommend watching the videos several times to familiarize yourself with the steps.


Our focus should be on understanding the steps to getting back into the shell. It’s a step-by-step process that both videos illustrate this very well.

Be prepared. Take time to practice this skill and the day that you flip, you will be well prepared to self-rescue yourself.