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The Gearboat Chronicles

Better Rowing through Foosball

Next time you’re rafting on a Winding Waters trip, watch what your guide does with their oars as soon as you see rapids coming up. There probably won’t be much to see, and that’s what you’re looking for. Knowing where you want to be before you get there allows you to adjust early and easily. If you do set up early, the current is your friend, giving you a free ride where you want to go.

The alternative is to let your boat be swept down until you urgently need to change course. Then there’s flailing oars, fighting a current that’s picked up speed now in the bottleneck of rapids and is no longer your pal.

I did more than my share of flailing when I started rowing. Still do when I let my guard down. But I promise you that putting a two-ton gear boat in the wrong place just a few times will learn you real quick to avoid doing that again.

There are several nasty whirlpool eddies in Hells Canyon that I now know very well, but never wanted to. A few oar strokes would have kept me safely in the current. Instead, I missed the ounce of prevention and got to learn what it must have been like to work on a Viking ship, heaving on the oars to get out of the whirlpool until your spine explodes out your back and your shoulders pop from their sockets.

So you learn to conserve energy. I recall several times rowing my boat directly behind Morgan’s boat, and wondering how it could be possible that he appeared to be enjoying a nap up there with his oars calmly tucked under his arms, while I whipped the river into a froth, frantic to avoid a rock or hole. I should have been watching earlier, when he saw it coming and nudged himself where he needed to be before he needed to be there.

Morgan is even efficient about resting. Tucking the oars under his forearms when the blades aren’t in the water is a calculated measure to take strain off the wrists. I confess that I found this a wee bit silly the first time he explained it to me. I changed my mind. Oars are heavy. Hold them long enough and by the end of a rafting season you’re chugging ibuprofen from an economy-sized bottle, pleading for the throbbing in your wrists to cease.

And that’s why I’m going to ask my accountant if I can claim my new foosball table as a business expense. Healthy wrists are vital to rowing. I think we’ve proven that. Feathering the oars is all in the wrist, just like . . . um . . . well, you see, IRS, foosball also improves hand-eye coordination. And you just can’t get that from a rowing machine.

Some people might view the purchase of a sweet, vintage foosball table you found on craigslist and just had to have as a frivolous purchase. And normally I would agree. But I take my job seriously, and once I realized the value this awesome foosball table has for improving my rowing skills in the off-season . . . well, if avoiding that vicious whirlpool in Hells Canyon means I have to play foosball all winter, so be it. That’s how serious I take this river-running business.

So for all of you interested in our row-your-own river trips where you learn to pilot your own boat, stop by my place when you get into town and we’ll play some foosball to condition your rowing reactions. And if you don’t mind terribly, I might have you sign something to show the accountant this is a legitimate training device.