One is the loneliest number, but it is now the ideal number for local rowing clubs to get back onto the water.
In a sport typically recognized as eight rowers moving in sync and gliding across the water, a new normal was created by the COVID-19 pandemic: Seeing the sport return to its earliest stages of learning how to row – in one-person, single=racing shells.
An update to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial New York State Pause order issued on June 17 allowed local clubs like Saratoga Rowing Association and Niskayuna Rowing to get back on the water.
“It clarified the order regarding low-risk outdoor activities which involves social distancing including row boats, canoes and kayaks. We thought that applied to us,” Stacey Apfelbaum, Niskayuna Rowing program director said via a phone interview. “Since we are a youth organization, it did not. They amended that piece of legislation to participate in outdoor activities and the businesses that run them can open.”
That put more than 160 rowers on the water on Fish Creek with the SRA and 84 with Niskayuna beginning June 15.
Today, it’s a different sight than the hundreds of spectators standing on the shore of Fish Creek at the NY boat launch and nine-boats racing toward the Route 9P bridge previously each spring for the New York State championships.
“We have six singles out at a time and a new group shows up on property every 20 minutes,” Eric Catalano, SRA executive director said during a phone interview. “From the time they arrive they have 20 minutes to get their boats, get on the dock and push off [heading onto Fish Creek].
“It’s this amazing conveyor belt of organization and everybody is all smiles. We think they are smiles because they have masks on until they push off the dock. Once they come off the dock, they take their mask off.”
SRA has 20 club-owned singles in its boathouse with Niskayuna taking advantage of its 14 single-person racing shells.
“We’re really just going back to our roots,” Apfelbaum said. “People think rowing and they picture eights and it’s like too many people, there is no way [the sport is safe]. They don’t realize that there is the other side to our sport.”
The opening week is open to the winter rowers who lost their entire spring season, never getting on the water before the NY Pause stopped all high school athletics.
Smaller programs, including Burnt Hills Rowing in Alplaus, will look to do more with less.
“Luckily, we have five, may be up to six singles, so we can get groups out on the water with our coaches,” Eileen Stone, president of Burnt Hills Rowing, said in a phone interview. “Access to equipment in the sport of crew, to buy a boat is expensive, that is a limiting factor. We have enough to get started July 6.”
Swift Racing, a racing shell manufacturer lists a base model at $4,300 and an elite carbon model at $8,000.
The local programs will begin to offer their annual learn-to-row sessions beginning June 29, inviting middle schoolers and up an opportunity to try their hand at the sport.
The same small group session protocols will continue throughout the month of July and into August.
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.