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Sweeping the Surfboat - Part 4

In part 4 we will be picking up the critical wave area in the return from the Gate Cans.
By the time you reach the gate cans on the return journey your full attention needs to switch to reading the surf around you and making sound decisions for your crew.

  • Sweeping - Part 4You should have already read the water before leaving the beach so for example if you have a run out going to greet your boat in the wave zone you may decide to steer a course to the left or right of that moving water if safe to do so
  • You should have a firm understanding of the type of wave you are going to have to deal with i.e. will it spill, dump or surge and this information should be conveyed to the crew so they also understand what to expect
  • You can never pre-determine what any wave will do because they are all different and your job is to make good decisions and deal with what is in front of you. However it is a good principle to understand the surf type you’re operation in and be ready
  • What is absolute is the need for you as sweep to be completely focused on the task of steering your boat and not to be looking all over the ocean at other crews. One method is for the sweep to advise the crew just before entering the wave zone on the location of other close by boats. For example you may tell the crew that two boats could be joining us on the same wave on our right hand side. This then allows those crew members looking to the right to become the watchtower for any possible danger or avoidance and leaves the sweep to concentrate on the wave
  • Select a wave you are capable of handling and have previously trained to hone your skill on. If the waves are coming in sets you should have been watching on the beach to understand any pattern like say 3 waves per set. How far apart in distance and time is another good thing to understand in your decision process
  • At training you should be practicing your take offs of varying stroke numbers in front of sizable waves so when confronted with a short take off in competition you can handle it
  • In small or clean surf you would usually take on the first wave that came along
  • In big or nasty surf you would take a more considered approach to wave selection and may well sit and wait  for the last wave of the set or the cleanest wave
  • Whatever your approach it must be decisive, make the call early, be positive and react according to the selected wave
  • The key issues to holding any wave is set up, concentration, body position, crew skill and a dose of luck. Remember even the best can lose a wave but generally when it happens it isn’t all arms and legs. Let’s look at each of these segments:


  • Sweeping - Part 4This refers to both the boat and you the sweep
  • You should understand the power of the wave and where it is coming from. So if you are about to climb onto a 1.2M wave that has started to break from your right or is about to break from your right the POWER of that wave at that time is going to hit you from the RH side first.
  • You should always set your boat at 90 deg to the power of the wave so if a 1.2M wave is breaking squarely across behind the boat you would be at 90 deg to the face of the wave. If however in the example above that same wave is going to start breaking or have a higher shoulder to your right you would lay off slightly to your left (bow pointed away from the POWER) so you have the boat positioned square to the POWER of the wave.
  • You watch closely and as the wave breaks across behind your boat you continually correct direction keeping square to the point of POWER which for a fully broken wave is at 90 deg to the line of broken water
  • The cost of not steering a course adjusted to the POWER is that if the wave grabs one side of the boat it can pull you into a slew
  • As the sweep your most important thing to do is to keep the sweep blade in the water. This is one of the only times you turn your blade to vertical and actually use it to directly steer the boat as against keeping it at the lay over angle for all other aspects of the race. If you need to climb on the chocks to keep the blade in the water then do so but never, never, never let this blade come out of the water. If you are currently spinning off at the top of the wave take notice and you are probably losing contact between the water and your blade. As soon as contact is lost the boat will start to slew and the chances of getting it back are very slim
  • The two key pressure points in holding a wave come at the top where you’re set up and stance is so important. The next point of real pressure is as you slide to the bottom of a wave and the force of breaking water engulfs the rear of the boat.
  • On both occasions STANCE is so important. At the top of the wave stand tall, keep the blade in contact with the water and that usually means climbing unto the chocks. As you learn climb up early say a few strokes before the boat starts to shoot. As you become more proficient you can jump up at the start of the shoot but either way you must be up and set so you keep the steerage set square to the POWER and the BLADE in contact with the water
  • At the base of the wave the pressure of your blade which is now deep inside the wave will be to try and push you into the bottom of the boat as the blade tries to exit the water. You must be standing tall and strong to have any chance of holding this wave at that point. If you allow yourself to fold down and bend over your strength of purchase is gone and so too is your boat. You may notice some sweeps have a crew member place their hands under the sweep oar handle at this point and provide some upward pressure to assist the sweep in staying tall. This exercise has to be practiced but it can be a very effective means to keep control
  • The other thing for sweeps to understand is if any side currents are present at the base of the wave. If you have a current running from left to right and you steer a straight course for the beach as soon as your bow hits the side drift you are likely to be slewed to the right. You would counter this side current by choosing an amount of angle to steer into the current as you reach the base of the wave thus when the side pull grabs your bow it will bring it back to the middle and give you the best chance of control. This must be practiced to understand the angle to lay off that matches the strength of the current.


  • Very important for the sweep to completely switch onto the job at hand. We ask our crews to remain focused throughout the entire race and for the sweep you will be under more pressure when approaching the wave area then say out the back so we need to focus
  • Develop your own system for switching onto the variances of handling the surf zone
  • Don’t spend your time watching other crews as you have a massive job to do in controlling your boat
  • Develop your crew safety process so you always have someone watching out for other boats
  • Learn to anticipate – don’t wait until something happens before you react because in an 8M surfboat that will be to late

Body Position:

  • Sweeping - Part 4Be ready, brace yourself and stand strong and tall. Remember like skiing or many other sports your strength starts in your feet and must transfer up through your body.
  • Coming into the wave zone you should have moved to the back quarter bar. This transfers as much weight as possible to the rear but it also increases your angle of attack with the sweep blade to assist in keeping it in the water. If you stay forward the handle will be lower in the boat which equates to the blade being higher.
  • It is noted that a few different approaches are taken to stance and you need to work out what works for you
  • Firstly feet position – some sweeps prefer to straddle the rear quarter bar when wave catching while others choose to move both feet behind the rear quarter bar. What is important is your ability to remain stable and solidly upright regardless of the angle of the boat on the wave
  • Body direction – here again we see some sweeps taking a more square approach with the shoulders set square across the boat. The more conventional stance would be to set the shoulders at about 45 deg to the side of the boat. The later allows for a leading and trailing shoulder and provides the maximum ability to gain a full range of movement across the boat in both directions
  • Your ability to keep your craft trim and under control will be totally dependent on your chosen stance. Watch some top sweeps, talk to them and practice until you have the stance that works best for you
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce an initial jolt to the sweep oar if you feel your boat starting to slide away. It won’t matter how strong you think you are if you stand and wait for the boat to start to run off and then try to correct with pressure it may not be enough. Sometimes a quick burst of power can bring the boat back on line

Crew Skill:

  • This is every bit as important to your success as a sweep as is what you do on the end of the Long Oar
  • Train in surf, practice the calls of - easy oar, the trail, the trail and back one seat & the trail and back
  • Practice until the crew can keep the boat stable for you during the whole process
  • Teach the crew that the movement of their body weight can assist in bringing a boat back onto line
  • Teach the crew what to do in the case of a sweep going overboard

Like training the rower it is only through constant practice in the surf will you become a better sweep. Make good safe decisions based on your skill level. If you can’t handle a certain size or type of wave in practice you won’t magically be able to in competition. Never be afraid to say NO this surf isn’t for me or the crew today. There is no shame in taking a decision to protect your crew and gear.

Safe sweeping and hopefully some of the tips included in this four part series has been of assistance.

Bert Hunt

Sweeping the Surfboat..... Part 3

Sweeping the Surfboat Part 3In part 3 we will be looking at the run out to the turning buoys, to understand your job over this part of the race, plus the turn and return journey to the gate cans.

In general terms this will be the part of the race where your crew will need to show off their best boat speed so to achieve that as a sweep we need to have the boat balanced and set up as best we can.

Û    Keep the boat well balanced. Learn to allow for the ever changing angle of the water surface. Crews can’t row efficiently if one side of the boat is reaching while the other in scraping the handle along their legs. Using the feel of the boat through the feet don’t be afraid to alter the pitch of the boat as it climes over or through rough water if the swell is hitting the hull on an angle. To achieve this you may pressure down on one side of the boat momentarily to set all rowers up with an even drop on the catch. As soon as the catch is locked rower power takes over and propels the boat forward and quickly righting the levels required

Û    Keep the crew calm and concentrating on their best rowing. The row to sea is where your style and speed training is best utilised so the crew must stay focused and they can’t do that with a sweep berating them with panicked or unclear instructions

Û    Pick your best racing line remembering a straight line is always the shortest course but in strong cross wind you may need to be laying off into the wind so at the turn you don’t leave the crew miles away from their can

Û    Work out your turning method and learn to aim for a constant run in distance to the cans. For example the cans are 23M apart so you should be setting up to be no more than a third of the way across that space when you start you turn into the cans

Û    Different sweeps have different turning styles but when you decide on what works for you consistency of line into the turn is your best friend allowing of course for any incoming swell that could hit the cans at the same time as your boat

Û    Read the Surf Sports Manual and know you’re give way rules so you don’t find your crew DQ’d for a simple mistake

Û    Don’t take to many risks on the turn that could see you miss the can. It may be only a meter but if you miss it you will be doing another 20 meters to go around again

Û    Turns must be practised over and over so they become second nature. Complacency in turning has cost many a good crew a spot in the final

Û    When straightening up out of the turn be sure you take a quick look for your gate can. It is important to quickly identify you homeward bound track so you don’t miss the gates. Some sweeps will use a predetermined back of beach marker like a house or tent that is easily identifiable at the turn cans to locate the planned run home but whatever your method DO NO MISS THE GATE CAN

Û    As soon as you have yourself and the crew settled into rowing after the turn you should be looking at the ocean to pick any swell that is travelling your way. You can shift around a little searching for that run but always be mindful of your position in relation to your gate

Û    If you move off line chasing a swell you have to be mindful of not interfering with a neighbouring crew but you must still be able to realign to pass the gate can on the correct side

Û    As a rule some sweeps will stay forward on the front quarter bar and some will shift back in between the two bars or further. It really depends on your individual height and ability as to where you stand. The key is to keep the oar in contact with the water at all times so if you’re tall and can stay forward and achieve that, use that advantage. If you’re shorter you may need to shift aft to increase the shaft angle to maintain constant blade and water contact

Û    If the swells are sitting up be prepared to jump onto the chocks regardless of where you are in the race. In certain type of conditions and depending on our height you could find yourself getting up and down from swell to swell

Û    Keeping the sweep blade in constant contact with the water is the key to holding your line. An exercise to reinforce the point for constant blade contact with the water while at training set the boat up on a runner out the back and lift the sweep blade clear of the water, watch just how quickly the boats loses direction. Remember as a rule the boat will be travelling at greater speed coming home so the sweep blade becomes more of a rudder in holding the water which in turn holds the run line

Importance of blade angle when running swells

Û    Remember in Part 2 we spoke about the angle of the blade and how we keep it trailing just off the flat. We also said the blade didn’t go vertical until on a wave

Û    Running a swell is the exception, it mightn’t technically be a wave but if your boat is running it has more speed that can be handled quickly with the flat blade so by employing a quick turn of the wrist and bringing the blade onto the vertical it will provide immediate steering control

Û    While ever the boat is shooting on a run you are required to directly control and steer with a vertical blade

Û    As soon as you drop off the run you revert to a flat blade so it can be slipped around on the water

Û    As you run home you will constantly be adjusting the angle of blade attack to the water. Remember it must always maintain contact with the water or the rear of the boat will take off sideways. So by changing the blade angle to react to the sped of the boat you can maintain the constant steerage required

Û    Important in achieving the blade water contact is to be always raising and lowering the hand height holding the sweep handle. If you’re starting to overreach above your head and risk losing water contact step up onto the chocks before that happens. As soon as the boat angle drops at the tail move back down off the chocks

Û    If you feel yourself being pushed into the bottom of the boat (usually at the base of a run) make sure the blade is vertical so it can find the path of least resistance and stand up strong and tall. This way you are aiming to keep the handle at a body height position where you have maximum control. The minute you lost control of the handle you lose contact with the water and your crew is shooting along the side of the run and losing race distance

Next time we will look at setting the boat up approaching the wave area and how to handle this last part of the race.

Some tips to keep you in shape

Click here to download the NewsletterAll Very Well and Good - a complimentary Health and Fitness Newsletter provided courtesy of:

Derek Knox (B.Sc. Sports, AEP, MBA)

Director – Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA)

Absolute Balance Exercise Consultant

You can download the newsletter by clicking HERE or on the newsletter image (pdf reader required)

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

Sweeping the Surfboat..... Part 1

Sweeping the Surfboat

This is Part 1 of a series of articles on the skill and requirements to become or improve your sweeping skill and knowledge.

Like all things it isn't the only way but it is hopefully a good start in understanding the full package. In following articles different topics will be covered so in total we are going to look at the overview of the role through to general sweeping, crew safety, specific skills, strength, training and competition.


  • To be a great or good sweep you will need a well-developed set of skills including knowing how to be mother, philosopher, friend, mentor, salesman, tough guy and skilled sweep
  • On top of that you need to be responsible as the key decision maker for the rowers under your charge. You will ultimately be responsible for all decisions made within the boat including the safe keeping of the crew
  • You will need to be prepared to learn with your crew. Sweeps that think they know it all seldom do and quickly get shown up
  • Good decision making has no place for wild bravado. Confidence by all means is very important but the gung-ho approach has no place in the boat
  • Recruitment is key and you need to be actively involved in developing a plan to keep new rowers coming into the sport. Simply waiting for another club or crew to develop rowers and then poaching does nothing for the sport. Development of rowers must sit very high on every sweeps priority list
  • Understanding the politics within your club is another very important part of being successful. You must encourage all rowers to take a high profile in the clubs eyes to fundraising, working bees and patrols. Ignore any of these and see how quickly you and your crews will become the enemy
  • Attend as many coaching clinics as possible to both assist and learn. The day you think you know it all you are the looser
  • It is no fluke that crews are ever going faster. It is the result of some sweep/coaches better understanding the rowing stroke that have these crews lifting the bar
  • It isn't all about more training sessions. If you are coaching any part of the stroke incorrectly it won't matter how many sessions you do you still won't win.
  • Don't flog your crews on egos etc thinking that is what they need to go faster, understand the strengths and weaknesses of each individual crew and learn to coach accordingly
  • Don't practice bad methods whether it be a training program or stroke style
  • Do spend as much time as you can sitting on other surf craft like the surf ski to understand the run of the ocean. Until you yourself learn to feel the boat run you can never coach it to your crew
  • Make sure you do a good amount of your training work in the ocean. Flat water is where you teach technique but out at sea is where you learn your skills. You must train in the surf to learn the skill required. The day of competition in surf is not the place to be learning the fundamentals

Spinal mechanics and injury prevention during rowing movements

Spinal mechanics and injury prevention during rowing movementsInappropriate technique in rowing can lead to injury and pain within the low back. Fatigued states of the erector muscles of the spine can be a contributing factor to increases in flexion and extension movements of the lower back, as these muscles help regulate the bending motion of the spine. Studies have found that within these fatigued states, the muscles allow the lower back to move through a large range of motion. During rowing movements, particularly during the drive phase, the spine almost reaches full flexion. It has been shown that this loss of lumbo-­‐pelvic control through flexion movements can result in injury as the same amount of force is produced in the spine when injury occurs while lifting. Furthermore, the stress placed upon the spine rises as flexion increases and approaches end range.

Later research in spine mechanics showed that rather than stopping flexion moments in the spine, the erectors (i.e. Longissimus, iliocostalis and multifidus) are more responsible for reducing anterior shear (or forward sliding) forces, by producing posterior (backward) forces. Not only will fatigue reduce the effectiveness of these muscles, but as flexion increases, the stimulation of stretch receptors within these muscles will cause an inhibitory reflex, further decreasing active control.

It has been shown that repetitive motion of the spine under load leads to soft and hard tissue injury (e.g. disc herniation's, ligamentous sprain and vertebral fracture). It has also been found that a full flexion of the spine has substantially compromised its ability to withstand compressive loads. When we consider these factors in conjunction with our knowledge of the fatigued states of lower spinal muscles, we can see that the potential for injury within the lower back is quite large.

Get the Most Out of Your Interval Training

Interval TrainingInterval training is the use of high intensity exercise interspersed with periods of active or passive recovery or rest.

The use of interval training has become a more prominent form of training because of the increased time to fatigue. But how do you set intervals? Intervals can be prescribed specifically to meet your needs and goals. This can be done by performing a simple fitness test; a set distance, time trial or a set time run (cycle, swim etc.) and using the results to calculate Max Aerobic Speed (MAS).

Max Aerobic Speed coincides with an individual's VO2MAX, which is their maximal amount of oxygen consumption used to create energy molecules. The MAS provides a speed or velocity which elicits the persons VO2MAX.

Current research into interval exercise and training methods says that in order to get the greatest gains from training using this type of training, you should be working at 120% of your MAS, as that is the determined intensity where you exercise at levels above your VO2MAX for the greatest period of time before fatigue.

Carbohydrate Consumption, GI and Athletic Performance:

Carbohydrate ConsumptionCarbohydrates are the fuels required by the body to sustain exercise performance. One form of classification of carbohydrates is through the Glycaemic Index. The Glycaemic Index classifies foods according to their rate of digestion and increase of blood glucose levels.  Foods classified as high GI (70 or above) are digested rapidly and readily increase blood glucose levels.  Low GI foods (0-55) are digested slowly, facilitating a gradual release of glucose into the blood stream. 

So when should specific foods be consumed according to their ranking on the Glycaemic Index to maximise our athletic performance?

Approximately 3 hours - 1 day prior to exercise, low GI or complex carbohydrates should be consumed to maximise our muscle glycogen stores (stored energy in muscles) for energy supply during exercise. Simple carbohydrates or high GI foods can be consumed within an hour of competition and throughout sporting performance to help delay the depletion of stored muscle glycogen e.g. sports drinks and lollies.

Immediately following exercise, food containing high GI carbohydrates should be consumed to initially restore some muscle glycogen storage. Within 1 hour following exercise, a meal rich in low GI foods should be consumed to further restore muscle glycogen levels in conjunction with some protein rich food to promote muscle repair.

Carbohydrate Consumption, GI and Athletic Performance

Daniel Anderson - B.Sc. (Sports Science, Exercise and Health), Hons
Accredited Exercise Physiologist / Absolute Balance Exercise Consultants

About the Author: Derek Knox is best known within the surfboat community as the bowman from the highly successful North Cottesloe "J" Crew.

Derek in his day job is a decisive, energetic and enthusiastic leader with a high level of health and fitness industry knowledge and concepts. He is a proven identity within the health and fitness industry with highly commendable areas of employment including a recent role with the Indian Men's Hockey Team.

He is experienced in areas of Exercise Rehabilitation, Corporate Health, Personal Development and Elite Training Methods.

Derek is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and has completed his MBA at the University of Western Australia.

Derek is the Owner/Director of Absolute Balance – Exercise Consultants in Western Australia and has very kindly agreed to provide some material to the ASRL for inclusion into our Coaching Section of the website

3 Steps to make your strength training Surf Boat Specific!

Click here to download the article1. Squats don't directly equal Surf Boat Leg Strength!

There is no argument that back squats are a great exercise to develop overall leg strength. However, there is a better way to develop Surf Boat Specific Leg Strength!

If you compare the anatomical positioning of the body, and specifically look at the hip angle during a squat, there is a significant difference between this position and the corresponding body position and hip angle experienced in the boat, and specifically at the catch.

Therefore, this lack of compatibility between the two movements means that you are not maximizing your potential to build Surf Boat Specific leg strength in the gym. Within you strength routine, your lower body exercises should be looking to create a very compressed hip angle whilst placing the load in a relevant position.

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