The Letter “R”

Photo from my shell this morning in Oyster Bay Cove, NY

“Today was brought to you by the Letter “R”.” That was how the first dock talk I ever heard at Craftsbury began. Dan Roock went on to talk about the Release, the Recovery, and Relaxation.

This morning I ventured out onto Oyster Bay and continued my focus on the release. I sculled along the south shore over to Oyster Bay Cove and was treated to some beautiful calm water.

In the cove I took time to try the King of the Mountain drill and I also did some slow motion sculling. I could feel a difference in the release when I allowed my elbows to stay high and away, following the arc of the oar, followed up with a slight downward tap at the release. My focus was on allowing the top 1″ of the blade to come out square before the water turns the blade onto the feather.

My hope is to tie this into what Jim Joy taught:

We have to know why we do movements in a particular pattern. We have to think holistically for the best results of our efforts. The final movement patterns must be simple and energy conserving. All extraneous movements must be eliminated. Everything must lead to flow and smooth movement.” 1

Jimmy noted that “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.” 2

Well, as I allowed myself time to focus on the release I could feel the shell running more level and the release felt more fluid.

So it was great to get out for a longer row this morning. I could feel my legs getting tired on the row back, so I will need to focus on the whole movement. It was nice to see 19 single scullers from Sagamore Rowing at the boathouse this morning. Onward.


  1.  From an email from James C. Joy on August 10, 2018.
  2. The Sculler’s Philosophy and The Whole Technique” by James C. Joy

Stabilizing a Rowing Shell

Gordon Hamilton demonstration lateral pressure.

Well 2020 has been an interesting year. While I have not sculled on the water much so far, I am planning to go sculling this evening.

I like to have a goal for each row and the video below caught my attention the other day. I really enjoy focusing on new technical ideas, especially in the single. It’s fun to see how the shell responds and how the shell feels in the water.

In the short 4 minute video Gordon Hamilton of the Florida Rowing Center discusses the benefits of using lateral pressure into the oarlocks to stabilize the rowing shell. I’ve worked on this idea before and am looking forward to experimenting with it more this evening.

Learning to Scull – The Basics

Two learn to row scullers on the water in their shells.

During the Summer of 2018 I enjoyed teaching a learn to row class at Sagamore Rowing in Oyster Bay, NY. I prepared a handout for each class with the lesson for the day. During the summer, the class ran for three weeks at a time and we met up each Tuesday and Thursday evening.

Below is an outline of what we worked on and each day links to a handout:

I hope this info can be helpful to anyone who is learning to row or scull. Sculling is a wonderful pursuit and is always an adventure!

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.