By Stuart Wilson
When I started out rowing in the UK in 1970, the first boat I rowed was a “Clinker Eight”, something I am sure most of the present-day rowers would never have heard of never mind rowed in. The fittings in the boat featured a lot of brass – slides, wheels, oarlocks and heel cups to name a few. The stretchers were two flat boards with a brass heel cup and thick leather straps.
We progressed into restricted shell hulls with an outer keel and these boats had a more modern contoured foot clog with a lace up leather fitting and they were infinitely more comfortable. This was the only options available.
Around this time news of a new purpose made rowing shoe, was reaching provincial clubs. This stemmed from the success of the West German Men’s Eight winning Gold in the 1968 Olympic Final, a race many may recall saw the Australian Eight finish in silver medal position rowing in a Sargent and Burton craft. The final was quite dramatic with the favoured West German crew having to make a last-minute substitution due to illness.
The technique rowed by this crew, later termed the Adam Style, after their Coach Dr Carl Adam, a mathematics Teacher with a non-rowing background. Dr Adam introduced changes to both technique and training methods.
This new technique featured greater leg compression and a more upright body posture than the more traditional rowing styles. Achieving this greater compression was difficult using the traditional clogs as the heels would raise too much due to the higher compression and the feet slipped down and out of the clogs and hence the idea of the rowing shoes that allowed free movement of the heel without loss of connection to the stretcher. Longer slides were also required to achieve the desired compression with an increased travel through the line of work. The new slides at 80cm were 8 cm longer than the common 72cm in use at that time.
The “Aussie Rail” as it became known in Europe was a self -supporting alloy slide rail extrusion developed by Jeff Sykes in Australia, which could be cut to any length desired, and was a readily available product that easily covered this new requirement and was soon in big demand in the UK to enable this change in technique that was sweeping across Europe. Gradually through the 70’s shoes became more popular widely used.
When I emigrated to Australia in 1980, clogs were still the dominant foot stretcher fitting right through to the top end of competition domestically and rowing shoes slowly came in during the ‘80’s.
So that’s a little history of clogs and shoes but what is the relevance to today’s rowing market.
As a coach and a manufacturer of rowing equipment, I get to see first hand the use of current products and at what levels they are being used at and many of the pros and cons.
Looking back through old rowing video tapes of younger crews racing in boats fitted with clogs and shorter slides, I see little evidence of over compression and poor posture associated with it, and a more dynamic leg drive is clear.
Good coaching and set up in the boat of course will reduce these technical issues so being aware and ensuring attention is paid to this area in the early learning stages is most beneficial. The same technique issues can be seen on the rowing ergometer where over compression and poor posture is just as evident and coaching good posture and stroke sequence for young rowers on the rowing ergometer is critical as poor technique often transfers directly into the boat.
Perhaps some of the points made above will give more guidance to clubs and schools with their considerations of use of equipment at junior level. This is not a message not to use rowing shoes with young crews of course but more a point to consider that using clogs should not be seen by our young rowers as ‘old hat’ and can be viewed as a positive in teaching the basics of rowing.