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Sweeping the Surfboat - Part 2

Sweeping the Surfboat - Part 2

Let’s start Part 2 with the thought that you must be able to gain the respect from all members in the crew to have any chance of success and most importantly enjoyment:

  • Don’t be that sweep you hear that returns to the beach roaring at their crew. This is very counterproductive and in truth it can often be worked back to a bad decision of the sweep but as he is boss it is easier to make the rowers cop it.
  • Don’t spend your training or race time berating your crew to go faster or apply more power or in general just ripping the crew along. It seldom works and in fact on most occasions it has the opposite effect of unsettling the crew. Your job it to settle the crew into rhythm, keep them calm and teach them to be the better rowers they can, which is what really makes them go faster.

It is always interesting to stand on the beach and watch both the learning and experienced sweep at work. A good tip is to watch someone that is experienced, has good crew respect, keeps his crew safe and has good surf skills. If you’re going to learn from anybody it may as well be from a sweep that knows their stuff.
The very first thing to learn and understand is your stance position in the boat. If you watch a carnival near you, you will see two distinct stance styles.

  • One is the sweep that stands square on to the nose of the boat. Feet are usually together in the same pocket between a quarter bar and he is holding the oar out to the side in one hand
  • The second is the sweep that stands roughly at 45 deg with a leading shoulder facing toward the nose, feet are astride one of the quarter bars and for most times two hands on the oar

We won’t be too judgemental here because like rowing there is no one right way. However as a general rule the sweep standing at 45 deg has a lot more options.

  • By standing at an angle you have your feet spread across the boat and can take a flexed knee position which will let you feel the boat through the legs thus being able to easily counter any rock across the boat
  • Two hands are always better than one. Watch the best sweeps and they have both hands in contact with the handle for the majority of time especially when in the break
  • Try standing square and take note of how much movement you have with the handle in either direction, it won’t be a lot
  • Stand square and note that you can’t bring the strength of your body into the action
  • Now stand at the angle and try the same exercise. You will instantly note that you can now also use your body length as well to push and lay back so your steering spread of movement has been doubled
  • The sweep oar should become part of your body with two hands to keep control and always positioned at a height where you can apply pressure
  • The sweeping movement starts at your feet. Firstly you need to learn to feel what your boat is doing through your feet. A good sweep can tell you without looking a lot of the time what is going on with late catches, unequal pull pressure or poor release from the way the boat reacts through his feet.
  • The other important thing that starts in the feet is your power. A good sweep will always be driving up through the legs. Like skiing, water or snow you flex up through the legs driving the power upwards
  • When getting set to take a wave the first thing to get right is your feet position because it will be through your legs that will ultimately determine your success on the wave. Stand weak and the sweep oar will force you down into a squat. Squat and you lose 80% of all waves. Stand tall against the downward pressure on the handle and you are well placed to continue to be in control

So let’s look at the blade angle and use of quarter bars on the way to sea:

  • Learn to steer with the blade lying flat at a bit more than 45 deg
  • You never turn the blade vertical until on a wave
  • To steer learn to turn the wrist just slightly and put light pressure on the handle to turn the boat back toward yourself
  • Leave the blade at its angle and lift ever so slightly on then handle will turn the boat away from yourself
  • Of course both these actions require the boat to be moving and the faster the more responsive
  • Learn to clear your blade when the boat nose heads into every wave. This way you won’t get the blade caught under the water if the boat pushes back
  • The slightest push back against a sweep oar caught under the water with you hanging onto the handle can result in an expensive snap. Sometimes unavoidable but most times the rule is clear the blade and you don’t break the oar
  • To clear the blade you only need to disengage it from the water slightly and push the handle away from yourself
  • Remember also that once you have the nose heading into the wave at the angle you want you have nothing else to do until the boat flattens out on the other side so you’re not required to actually steer it up and over. In fact trying to steer the boat through every wave you risk a broken Sweep as well as fighting the oar which can unbalance the crew
  • Most boats have a forward and aft quarter bar. The best place to stand going to sea is with a foot on either side of the rear quarter bar (leading foot depending on if you are RH or L Handed). From here you have your weight to the rear which will help the nose lift and if required you can lay your weight onto the back deck to provide further lift at the nose
  • To pull off the lay back your job is to set the boat up in the direction you want to hit the wave and once about to engage, clear the sweep oar well out to the side and throw your body back onto the rear deck. At the same time make sure you hook your feet under the quarter bar to ensure you stay with the boat. Having the feet hooked will also assist you in recovering your upright position as the boat rides up and over
  • Of note is that the best way over a wave isn’t always at 90 deg. Depending on the size and type of a wave you can be best to run up the face at an angle thus reducing the amount of rise and fall in your boat. This will also reduce the impact on the other side.
  • Another thing to take into account is the speed you attack the face of the wave. If you have large green swells your boat speed is likely to be increased over a sharper more nasty wave. For the sharp nasty wave you give it all you have so your boat speed will equal out the wave pressure. On the other hand the large swell wave you might want to consider taking a little speed of so the blast off on the other side isn’t as strong. Getting a lot of air off the back of a wave can look spectacular but in the modern boat it is also easy to flip if the crew landing is anywhere off centre
  • Through all of this you would be standing at the back quarter bar position.
  • Once clear of the wave zone you should start to move your body position forward to help trim the boat. Most sweeps will shift completely forward and take up position across the front quarter bar
  • From the back of the break to 20M out from the turning buoys your task is to keep the boat trimmed for the crew. Providing them with the most level platform possible will allow them to do their best work.

Keep both hands on or near the handle, keep the blade at its trailing angle and use your feet position across the boat to help smooth out any wave/chop action

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