Year ago a good friend made a comment about the focus he had for the movement around the back turn. His comment was about carving the blade out around the finish. With out breaking the finish down to little bit of information I thought that it would be beneficial to explain subjectively how the back turn can be rowed.
The rower I mentioned above was Nick Green, member of the original Oarsome Foursome. When I recall his comments about the finish it is a vivid image in my mind about how he rowed the back turn and the emphasis he placed on the release. In fact he was often so deliberate about the movement around the release that it would appear as if he was pausing at the bottom of the turn. The illusion was masterful and the Foursome for years had a distinct style of rowing, which did indeed look like they were pausing at the back turn. To me Nick and the crew were very particular about the way the rowed the back turn and it was this attention to detail that certainly contributed to the ability to perform and row with an amazing efficiency.
When Nick made the comment about carving the blade out of the water it made sense because when I was sitting back in the bow seat learning how to match up I found that the timing, speed and force around the finish was an art form. He had a fluid style with a range that enabled him to really explore the perfect release. Now the interesting thing is that early on in his rowing career his back turn was not a strength and in fact one story goes that while in a boat with a senior athlete he was told to simple tap the handle down and to get his f*#ken blade off the water.
Some where along the journey he developed the skills required to row a great back turn. It was a pleasure to sit behind him in the four because the rhythm his established around the finish with the movement was a great guide. So how to explain what it is like to get the release just right. It has to do with timing the pressure and step of the blade as the drive phase comes to its end.
Carving the blade out is a great description I think, as you want to keep enough pressure on the blade face as the top edge starts to release with out tearing the water. The myth around drawing the handle up is a nice concept but in reality it doesn’t occur. The final stage of the arm draw involves a combination of things. Being able to hold the pressure on the blade face is critical. Allowing the blade to release and gradually carve and step out of the water while keeping it square is needed. Having an open pocket of air behind the blade is created by these things and this allows the blade to release with ease and flow. It sets up the boldness of the back turn which when performed with care does appear to pause. What’s most important here is that this is the emphasis when paddling and obviously the aim is to carry it through into racing. One of the greatest lessons I learned from the guys in the four was the need to create the ideal movement in paddling. It needs to be deliberate and have such attention to the finest degrees.
Don’t force the rhythm is a key element and is the reason for the way the back turn appear at lower speeds. Nick was very good at getting this right and to then watch at speed with the flow and ease of movement was incredible.
Carving the blade out requires a commitment to a movement that when transferred to race pace can provide great benefits it timing, flow and maximises effort. The Oarsome Foursome at the Barcelona Olympics shows some of the great rowing skills footage that highlights carving the blade out. The other great footage I can recall was Xeno Muller in 1996 when his release had a similar look about it.