Intrepid paddlers row into New Year

Take a look, and learn about this East Portland club that promotes what they call the ‘life-long sport’ …

Oregon Rowing Unlimited crew members Arthur Wilson and Bryan Schreiner say that rowing is a sport for the young and old alike.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On the chilly and clear New Year’s Day morning, when many revelers were recovering from their late-night party, a group of valiant rowing enthusiasts were carrying their long, thin boats down to the edge of the Willamette River.

At their Oaks Park boathouse, Oregon Rowing Unlimited’s director, Frank Zagunis, explained, “We’re ready to take off for a ‘New Year’s Row’.”

Far from being a competitive event, the outing was simply an opportunity for members to enjoy their sport of choice, Zagunis explained. “We’re expecting a crew of all ages – teens, to older people – to come row with us today.”

The club frequently has outings with “composite crews”, utilizing the motive power of people new to the sport, in addition to those who are highly experienced rowers. “Our volunteer organization’s mission is to promote rowing. We teach youth – as young as 12 years old — how to row. And, some of our new rowers started in their 70s,” Zagunis said, about the fifty-member club, started in 1988.

Kristy Aserlind sets the lineups for the boats, based on the club members who attend the event, while and Oregon Rowing Unlimited Director Frank Zagunis looks on.

Rower Dana Ham checks over the rigging on his shell.

One of the older members, Arthur Wilson, said it seemed like a good morning for rowing. He started with the club in August. “I’ve been involved in rowing before, in other cities where I’ve lived. But I’m learning a lot more by being with this group. It’s amazing how you get out of shape – but this is a very good non-impact sport, and frees your mind. For me, it’s a ‘lifetime sport’.”

The youngest participant that morning was Bryan Schreiner, a junior at Oregon Episcopal School. “I’ve been rowing since the summer of fifth grade. My dad did rowing in college. At first I was afraid, but once I got on the water, I loved it!”

Schreiner said he’s recommended the sport to others his age. “I’ve met kids from Wilson, Lincoln, and other schools – including homeschoolers. And, it’s fun to help younger kids learn, in their ‘Juniors’ program.”

Off they go, carrying their shell down to the river.

The larger, longer boats the club takes out – thin, narrow, sleek craft – are called “rowing shells”, explained Zagunis. “This morning, the crews will be ‘sculling’. Each rower will have two oars is in the water; whereas with ‘sweeping’, each rower would paddle one oar.”

Observing the swift flow of the Willamette on January 1st, Zagunis acknowledged that river rowing is a little tougher than lake rowing. “The hull speed is the same, but the apparent land speed is different. Even a skilled rower would have trouble keeping up with today’s current – even if they knew what they were doing. We don’t send out novices on days like today.”

The rowing shell is carefully lowered into the Willamette River.

Equipment checked, the crewmembers inverted their shells, and marched down to the floating dock – and, on a coordinated count, slowly lowered each one into the water on the downstream side.

When everyone was situated, they let go of the dock, drifted downstream, and started rowing out into the river, for an invigorating outing under brilliant blue skies.

To learn more about Oregon Rowing Unlimited, visit their website: CLICK HERE to open their homepage.

On New Year’s Morning: Sculling on the river.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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