Chennai | This summer break, try your hand at rowing

Rowing is not just about exercise; it teaches stakeholders the transience of Nature and provides opportunities to represent India in sporting events

April 10, 2024 04:37 pm | Updated 04:37 pm IST

Morning rowing scenes from the Sri Ramachandra Water Sports Centre.

Morning rowing scenes from the Sri Ramachandra Water Sports Centre. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At 6am, when much of Chennai experiences its last few REM cycles, a handful of rowers at the Madras Boat Club (MBC) can be seen dragging their boats out of the dock and entering the Adyar river. In twos, fours, eights and sometimes the rare single scull, they splice through the ripples of the once-sedate waterbody with a gentle ease and unwavering focus. Everything is quiet except for the bird calls and the rippling water underneath. The only interruptions are the occasional instructions to steer the boat right; and the consistent thump of moving oars.

“When the boat cuts through the water, there is a beautiful, distinct sound. During such moments, when everyone is in sync and in the zone, it feels like we could all row forever — all the way to the mouth of the river near Broken Bridge. It is poetry in motion,” says Sumana Narayanan.

Chennai often experiences a paradox. It is home to several ponds, lakes, rivers and the endless sea. However, only a handful experience the world of water sports. Sumana, the vice captain of boats at the MBC, says that once someone is bitten by the rowing bug, it becomes hard to let go. “Senior members of the club, at 80, still come out every morning and take the boat for a spin between the Kotturpuram bridge and the Mandaveli railway overpass (about one kilometre). It keeps their fitness in check,” she says.

Sumana who works at a non-profit organisation, comes from a legacy of female rowers in her family. On the walls of the 156-year-old club where she rows, one can see pictures of her mother and aunts, standing next to rowing boats and trophies.

Rowers at the Madras Boat Club.

Rowers at the Madras Boat Club. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Her senior, MR Ravindra, advocate and captain of boats at the MBC also features prominently in rowing gear from four decades ago, on the walls at the entrance. He is no stranger to the Adyar and says that taking an interest in helping the sport grow has made a world of difference to his day-to-day life. “Rowing has a lot to do with the mind and requires as much work on the ground, as it does in water. It is said that rowers tend to have the strength of a weight lifter and the stamina of a marathoner. It isn’t easy to propel a boat, you know,” he says.

Rowing is a great way to unwind and centre oneself, says Sumana. It is probably why the two rowing institutions in Chennai — the MBC and the Sri Ramachandra Water Sports Centre — are focussing their efforts on enlisting young members to take part in the sport. Although swimming is a prerequisite for learning the sport, Ravindra says that determination and focus are more than sufficient to ensure that those who learn reach great heights.

The sport is after all, accessible only to few in different parts of India due to geography and the existence of few rowing clubs. Even doing reasonably well allows participants to shine, representing the country in several international competitions including a shot at the Olympics.


Rowers at the Madras Boat Club.

Rowers at the Madras Boat Club. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Manoj Joseph Kallarackal, captain of boats for SWSC and DForce Rowing Cente, says that their rowing club started as a result of wanting to train for championships. Their 650 metre man-made lake within the campus of Sri Ramachandra University is a 24-hour set-up with four lanes, meant for attempting to produce the best rowers in the country. Besides great quality kits, the organisation also has machines that help correct and improve nuances like foot pressure. Since Pongal this year, Ramachandra has created its second course at Muttukadu, a stunning three-kilometre stretch along the backwaters, for the 28 professional rowers on its team.

“Since we are self-funded, we are only looking to ensure that serious rowers with aims to represent the institution take part. I understand that the sport is still inaccessible to many but we are happy to invite participants who wish to take this sport up seriously,” he says.

Ravindra says that though MBC has a group of people who row casually, the club often organises and takes part in popular regattas across the world. Since the club is first and foremost, a rowing club, the lion’s share of focus is on the sport. It hence has a coach, equipment that simulates rowing on ground, callisthenics training and top-class boats, to ensure a good sailing experience. To encourage novices to take part in the sport, the club will be holding a summer camp starting April 15.

Sumana says that people often associate rowing with the need for great arm strength. “It has a lot more to do with the legs though. They are in constant motion while in a rowing boat. Next comes great core strength. The arms are but the last important factor,” she says.

Rowers at the Madras Boat Club.

Rowers at the Madras Boat Club. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

She and Ravindra add that years of having been acquainted with the water has given them a knowledge of the city’s waterways, its behaviour during different seasons and the transient nature of the world around them. “Thirty years ago, the river was far cleaner. Now, we have an invasion of plastic and weeds. There is also a lot of sewage that is let into the river, preventing the existence of fish. I used to encounter many water snakes before,” says Ravindra. Sumana adds that dredging the river would also help create longer stretches for sailing along the river.

“Because we are here every day, we see everything — the good and the bad. Some days, we inform the police about bodies or end up helping with rescue efforts during the floods. On other days, we see birds and new trees along the banks. We understand tides and changing seasons. We are the watchmen of the river,” she says.

The summer camp at MBC begins on April 15 at a cost of ₹3,000. Contact 9445395089. Those who wish to sign up at Sri Ramachandra Water Sports Centre can contact 8073419296.

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