Passion on the river

The sun is beginning to peek over the high-rise buildings of a sleepy Portland. Brilliant colors from sunrise reflect onto the Willamette River. Portland State University Crew team’s oars feather in and out, swiftly cutting through the calm water.

This is the imagery all 25 members of the team experience almost every morning. The men and women’s crew, one of the many club sports at Portland State, has quickly become one of the more successful.

Competitive rowing is one of the oldest intercollegiate sports in America. The first race was Yale against Harvard in the early 1800s. A PSU novice men’s crew team took first place at two of this year’s earliest Northwestern regattas, trouncing the competition by winning both races with more then 40-seconds between boats.

The entire club arrives at 5:30 a.m. and rows until 7:30 a.m., an unheard-of hour for college students. But the dedication shines and head coach Joel Rosinbum is very pleased with the effort his rowers are putting in this year. He has been coaching crew for three years and rowed in college for four. Rosinbum spoke proudly about this year’s dedicated, young team.

“You become very accountable very quickly,” he said. “It’s not really been a problem, I’d say our attendance rate is in the high 90 percentile.”

Brian Flick, Vice President of the team and member of the winning novice men’s boat, decided the hours were manageable.

“It gets you going in the day, like you feel more refreshed,” Flick said. “Think about it: you’re out on the water in the morning, especially on a clear day, the sun is rising as you’re out there and it’s cooler weather so it really wakes up all your senses. Like today we didn’t have practice and I can definitely tell I’m not as awake as I usually am.”

Flick loves the teamwork and community building of crew and spoke about last term when he joined.

“I was looking into finding a sports activity that could get me in to shape again. I was looking at crew and sailing. Of those two I chose crew. The hours are a little early but you soon adjust to them,” he said.

Rosinbum understands that Portland State University is a commuter school and clubs facilitate building communities and friendships. Crew is the perfect fit.

“The best thing about crew is the community and teamwork, we row to have fun, we want to win and we want to have fun,” he said.

There are two types of men’s and women’s crew rowing: sweeps and sculling. In sweeps each rower has a single oar and the oars alternate from port or starboard sides, right and left respectively. Sculling allows two oars per person. The PSU Crew team concentrates on sweeps rowing primarily.

Within sweeps rowing there are two sets of competition that depend on how many rowers in a single boat. There are four-person or eight-person boats. The four-person boats are 45 feet in length, and the eight-person boats are 60-feet-long.

In the boats the seats move back and forth to assist propulsion through the water. All rowers sit behind each other and face the stern (rear) of the boat to a coxswain, who motivates and steers. Rosinbum explained the placement of each team member.

“You typically put the people with the best technique in the front, the strongest in the middle, and the people who have good timing in the back because they set the cadence for the rest of the boat.”

The team will compete in only four regattas in the fall and four in the spring. So a single win this early in the season, much less two wins is unprecedented. During the winter months the crew team will lift weights and use the ergometer (rowing machine) to stay in shape for future regattas.

The regattas are bracketed depending on experience level of rowers. There are six categories in which to compete: novice; junior varsity levels three, two and one; varsity; and championship. The winning novice team will now compete in the junior varsity levels.

The key to crew is working together. A perfect synchronization is what will drive the boat.

“When you get all the oars to come out of the water and go in to the water together, they make entry and exit sounds. When it happens all together you can hear it across the water,” Rosinbum said.

Crew is also one of the most athletic sports, as it works large groups of muscles including back, arms and legs, as well as the mind.

“It’s incredibly intense. Physiologists compare rowing a two-kilometer race as compared to playing two basketball games back to back, all in a seven-minute race,” Rosinbum said.

Like the early sunrise, the horizon looks bright for this young group of enthusiastic and dedicated rowers.