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The Thrill of Rowing a Pair: Double Trouble on the Water!

What is rowing a pair - the double trouble on the water

Hi friends! My name is Petra, and today, I want to talk about something nearly every rower has experienced—a rowing pair.

I can’t think of anything more fun and exciting than rowing with a buddy on a beautiful summer day. Even if you’re just out for some exercise, rowing with a friend is just a great experience.

Unfortunately, it’s not always fun and games. The truth is that finding the right person for your rowing pair isn’t always easy ( read more on coxless pair rowing ), even if the other person is a terrific rower!

Let’s talk about what a rowing pair is, learning how to row a pair, and what makes a good rowing pair.

What Is the Difference Between a Double and a Pair?

For rowing newbies who are reading this, a double and a pair sound the same, and they are similar but not at all the same.

Doubles in rowing refers to sculling boats where there are two rowers, each holding two oars, one oar in each hand. In comparison, a pair is a boat in a sweep rowing event, also involving two rowers, but each rower holds a single oar with both hands.

Remember that there are two types of rowing—sweep rowing (where rowers hold one oar) and sculling (where each rower holds a pair of oars).

difference between double and pair rowing

If you are at a regatta, and you hear them announce that doubles will be the next racing class, this means that they will be sculling boats. Still two people, but this means a total of 4 oars in the water since each rower holds a pair of oars.

If you hear that pair rowing will be the next race, you know that this is sweep rowing. Two people but only two oars in the water since each rower holds a single oar with both hands.

Double or a pair always involves two people in the boat, it’s simply a matter of how many oars are in the water!

Is a Pair or a Double Faster?

women double scull

While most people think of sweep rowing as faster, that’s not true in this case. A double scull will beat a pair in nearly all races.

However, you won’t see many races like that. In rowing, we try really hard to match apples to apples. I have seen some clubs run races among themselves just for fun.

It’s true that a coxed 8 (sweep rowing) is the fastest boat on the water, but in doubles or quads, the sculling boat is the one that usually wins.

Why Is Rowing a Pair So Difficult?

Rowing a pair is a bit like a marriage. If both partners learn to compromise, communicate, and are willing to keep working at it until they get it right, then it’s a match made in heaven.

We all know what happens in a marriage when one or both partners refuse to compromise, do the necessary work, or stop communicating, right?

Sweep Rowing Race Action Shot

The same is true with learning to row a pair. A pair needs to think and act like a team. There is no leader or “master”. You don’t take or give orders to the other person, you simply need to match your strokes to your partner and learn to balance the shell without wanting to choke the other person.

When practicing together, it’s easy to fall into the habit of blaming the other person. The problem is that the other person will blame you in return, and in the end, this accomplishes nothing.

In an ideal pair, both rowers like each other. They both understand that this is a team effort, not a competition between each other. They are willing to do whatever it takes to “click” and find that perfect ground where they can row like a single person.

Tips for Rowing a Pair

tips for rowing a pair

It’s always easy for outsiders to say, “Why don’t they just…” Two rowers mean that you have two different people, and it’s not as easy as it looks.

For those who are learning or want to row a pair, my best advice and tips would be:

    • Relax. Then relax some more! I think rowers in a pair tend to tense up and try to not be the one who is messing things up. They get so tense and uptight that they forget all kinds of basics. Relax! Remember that you’re there to have fun, not to judge or be judged. (OK, not yet, anyway!)
    • Choose a partner with an equal skill set. If you’ve been rowing since you were 5, don’t choose a partner who has only been rowing for 2 years. More than time, try to choose someone you already are friends with and who has a skill set similar to you. Most coaches will do this automatically, but I’ve seen friends at a club decide to row together, and it was not a good thing.
    • Let the shorter of you take the bow seat. This way, your oars will steer clear of the taller rower which will have a longer stroke.
    • Never stop communication! Even if you’re angry about something, don’t let it stop you from making suggestions or saying that you feel something is wrong.
    • Listen and follow directions. Since the bow person is usually the one to keep the boat going in a straight line, the bow must tell the stern what to do. Don’t think that, if you are sitting stern, you don’t have to listen because the bow person is a jerk today. Give up that ego, give up the anger, and follow directions. If you are so angry or upset that you can’t do this, call off practice for the day.
    • Start with short strokes. Don’t even worry about going in a straight line the first few times you are practicing. Do short strokes and get the feel for your partner’s stroke.

Don’t forget to have fun! Yes, some days, rowing feels more like torture than fun, but for the majority of the time, remember why you are here—to have fun!

How Do You know If Your Friend Will Be a Good Match for a Pair?

male sweep rowing pair

This is really difficult to say without knowing both parties.

If you belong to a club, you should ask your coach, to be honest. Tell them that you and your friend are thinking about pairing up and see what they have to say.

The coach may tell you something really obvious, or they might bring up a point or two that you hadn’t considered.

Don’t be upset with the coach if they tell you that John (for example) wouldn’t be a good match because he’s a much weaker rower than you are, but the dude you aren’t fond of, Jack, would be a terrific partner.

pair sweep rowing

Remember that being friends HELPS, but you don’t have to be buddies to row a pair. You simply need a similar skill set, be able to communicate with one another, and be willing to compromise.

If you don’t have a club or a coach to ask, all you can do is give it a try. Forget rowing in a straight line, forget speed, and simply focus on matching your stroke rate and timing. You’ll figure it out yourselves after a few dozen hours on the water.

The Bottom Line

When you’ve got the right partner, there is nothing more glorious and fun than rowing on a glassy lake in perfect harmony.

When there is a mismatch, nothing can be more frustrating. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work on your problems or work out some of the imbalances in your team.

However, if after spending hours and hours trying, you still can’t work it out, chalk it up to an experience and move on with no hard feelings.

Not being a good pair doesn’t mean you two are not good rowers. You simply aren’t a good match.

Stay fit and have fun! Happy rowing!