Classifications – By Age
From the USRowing Rules of Rowing:
4-104: Classification by Age
(a) Junior: A Junior is a competitor who in the current calendar year does not attain the age of 19, or who is and has been continuously enrolled in secondary school as a full time student seeking a diploma. A competitor thus ceases to be a Junior after December 31 of the year of his or her 18th birthday, or of the year in which he or she completes the 12th grade of secondary school, having been a full time student, whichever is later.
(b) Master: A Master is a competitor who has attained or will attain the age of 27 during the current calendar year. A competitor’s age is determined as of December 31 of the current calendar year, rounded down to the highest contained integer. A competitor thus becomes a Master on January 1 of the year of his or her 27th birthday. A Masters crew shall be comprised exclusively of Masters rowers, but the coxswain need not be a Master.
(1) Masters crews shall be classified by age according to the following categories: (A) 27 to 35 years, (B) 36 to 42 years, (C) 43 to 49 years, (D) 50 to 54 years, (E) 55 to 59 years, (F) 60 to 64 years, (G) 65 to 69 years, (H) 70 to 74 years, (I) 75 to 79 years, (J) 80 and over. The age category of a Masters crew shall be determined by the average age of the rowers in the crew, rounded to the nearest integer. The age of a coxswain shall not be counted. The ages of individual rowers need not fall within the age category, so long as each rower is a Master and so long as the average age of the crew falls within the applicable category.
Classifications – By Skill
From the USRowing Rules of Rowing:
4-105: Classification by Skill
(a) A competitor’s classification by skill shall be determined separately with respect to sweep events and sculling events. Except for the provisions of subsection (b)(2) below (Elite status affecting scull or sweep status), a competitor’s classification in one category shall not affect his or her classification in the other. A competitor’s classification by skill shall not be determined separately with respect to open events and lightweight events, and thus a competitor’s status as Elite, Senior or Intermediate is applicable regardless of weight class.
(b) Competitors shall be classified according to skill by the following criteria:
(1) Intermediate: A competitor is an Intermediate who has not advanced to the status of Senior or Elite.
(2) Senior: A competitor is a Senior who has won any intermediate or senior event over 2000 meters at the USRowing National Club Championships or at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, and who has not advanced to the status of Elite. A competitor who is an Elite as a sweep rower shall also be advanced to Senior for all sculling events, and a competitor who is an Elite as a scull rower shall be advanced to Senior for all sweep events.
(3) Elite: A competitor is an Elite who has won one 2,000-meter event classified as Elite at the USRowing National Championship Regatta, an Open 2,000-meter event at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, or any 2,000-meter event other than a Junior or Masters event at a USRowing Open or Lightweight National Team Trials’ regatta. A competitor also becomes an Elite if he or she has won any two 2,000-meter events classified as Senior at the USRowing National Club Championships or equivalent level at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta; or who has been a member of a USRowing National Team as a competitor (including as a spare) in the category at issue, other than in a Junior or Masters event.
(c) All trials events to select the National Team, except those for Junior or Masters events, shall be classified as Elite events.
(d) Junior or Masters races do not effect a competitor’s classification by skill under this Rule.
(e) All changes in classification by skill shall take effect on January 1 following the year of competition.
(f) Any other provision of these Rules notwithstanding, a competitor who is not an amateur shall be deemed an Elite for all events, whether sweep or sculling, open or lightweight.
Classifications – Lightweights
From the USRowing Rules of Rowing:
A lightweight crew is one that complies with the requirements below. An open event is one that is not a lightweight event.
(a) Men: A men’s lightweight crew shall average no more than 155 lbs. per rower, and no individual rower shall weigh more than 160 lbs. The coxswain shall not be counted for purposes of this Rule. A male single sculler (1x) shall not weigh more than 160 lbs. A Junior men’s lightweight crew is one in which no individual rower weighs more than 150 lbs.
(b) Women: A women’s lightweight crew, including a single scull (1x), shall have no rower who weighs more than 130 lbs. The coxswain shall be not be counted for purposes of this Rule.
Oars move the boat through the water and act as balances. Sweep oars are longer than sculling oars and typically have wooden handles instead of rubber grips. The shaft of the oar is made of extremely lightweight carbon fiber instead of the heavier wood used years ago.
The popular hatchet blade — named because of its cleaver-like shape — is about 20 percent larger than previous blades. Its larger surface area has made it the almost universal choice among elite-level rowers.
The Boats – Sculls and Shells
All rowing boats can be called shells. Rowing boats with scullers in them (each person having two oars) are also called sculls (e.g., single scull, double scull, quadruple scull). Originally made of wood, most new boats are made of honeycombed carbon fiber. They are light and appear fragile, but are crafted to be strong and stiff in the water.
The smallest boat, the single scull, is approximately 27 feet long and as narrow as 10 inches across. At 58 feet, the eight is the longest boat on the water.
The oars are attached to the boat with riggers, which provide a fulcrum for the levering action of rowing. Generally, sweep rowers sit in configurations that have the oars alternating from side to side along the boat. Sometimes, most often in the 4- or 4+, the coach will rig the boat so that two consecutive rowers have their oars of the same side in order to equalize individual athlete power.
The whole body is involved in moving a shell through the water. Although rowing tends to look like an upper body sport, the strength of the rowing stroke comes from the legs.
The stroke is made up of four parts: catch, drive, finish, and recovery. As the stroke begins, the rower is coiled forward in the sliding seat, with knees bent and arms outstretched. At the catch, the athlete drops the oar blade vertically into the water.
At the beginning of the drive, the body position doesn’t change – all the work is done by the legs. As the upper body begins to uncoil, the arms begin their work, drawing the oar blades through the water. Continuing the drive, the rowers move their hands quickly into the body, which by this time is in a slight layback position, requiring strong abdominal muscles.
During the finish, the oar handle is moved down, drawing the oar blade out of the water. At the same time, the rower feathers the oar — turning the oar handle — so that the oar blade changes from a vertical position to a horizontal one. The oar remains out of the water as the rower begins the recovery, moving the hands away from the body and past the knees. The body follows the hands and the sliding seat moves forward, until knees bent, the rower is ready for the next catch.
The Sprint Race
National, collegiate, worlds, and Olympic sprint competitions are 2,000 meters, or approximately 1.25 miles. The race course is divided into 6-8 lanes and each 500-meter section is marked with buoys. Masters races are 1,000 meters. Often, juniors races are 1,500 meters.
The race begins with all boats aligned at the start in the lanes they’ve been assigned. Individuals in each lane hold the stern of each boat steady, while an official (the aligner) ensures that each boat is even with the others and squarely facing the course.
Each crew is allowed one false start (two means disqualification). If within the first 100 meters, or 20 seconds of the race if the 100 meter zone is not marked, there is legitimate equipment breakage, the race will be stopped and restarted with repaired equipment.
The stroke rate (the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking) is high at the start — maybe 45 or even 50 for an eight, 38 to 42 for a single scull. Then, the crew will settle into the body of the race and drop the rating back — 30 to 35 for an eight, 25 to 30 for a single. The coach and the way the race is going determine when the crew will sprint, but finishing stroke rates of 46+ in the last 200 meters are not uncommon. However, higher stroke rates are not always indicative of speed. A strong, technically-talented crew may be able to cover more water faster than a less-capable crew rowing at a high stroke rate.
Unlike canoe/kayak competitions, rowers are allowed to leave their lanes without penalty as long as they do not interfere with anyone else’s opportunity to win. An official follows the crews to ensure safety and fairness.
Despite the exhaustion of the race, the crew will row for 5 to 10 minutes afterwards in order to cool down. In rowing, the medal ceremonies of larger regattas include the shells. The three medal winning crews row to the awards dock, climb out of their shells, and receive their medals before rowing away.
The Head Race
Head races, which are generally held in the fall, about 2.5-3 miles long and the boats are started in their respective divisions separately at 10 second intervals. They are usually conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that can make passing quite interesting. The winner is the crew that had the shortest elapsed time between the start and finish lines, with any additional time included for penalties.