For the Chronicle
“Sit up tall, now.”
“Flatten up those lower backs.”
“Big wave’s gonna hit you in four ... two, one.”
Those were some of the instructions coach Bobby Winsler shouted across the water to three crews of high school rowers from his launch boat during a recent practice of the Rowing Organization of Citrus County Students (ROCCS,
Winsler and Reza Zakaria coach nine high school rowers for ROCCS, which was formed 11 years ago because the Florida High School Athletic Association doesn’t sanction rowing as a sport. The club also has 24 middle school students, coached by Beth Carmain. Members of both squads come from schools across Citrus County, Winsler said.
“The club accommodates rowers of all ages,” coach Zakaria said.
Besides school students, club membership also includes 10 post-high school rowers, who are called masters — regardless of previous skill level — whether they think of themselves as such or not, Zakaria said.
All rowing equipment, including exercise rowing machines and various sizes of racing “shells” — as the long, sleek, low-riding boats are called — are stored at the ROCCS boathouse near Lake Henderson, where members regularly practice.
“The club has roughly 10 boats we use,” Winsler said.
Those accommodating eight rowers are about 60 feet long and can weigh as much as 250 pounds, he said. Shells accommodating from one to four rowers, which is what ROCCS members primarily use, are about 35-40 feet long, he said.
In Florida, rowing is possible year-round. ROCCS high school rowers practice five days a week year-round, Zakaria said, while middle schoolers practice twice weekly during the school year. Student members compete in Florida State Rowing Association events with other clubs from around the state in classes according to gender and age.
Competitions include two racing styles: sweeping and sculling.
Sweeping involves two, four or eight rowers, each of which uses only one oar on one side of the shell. Sculling, on the other hand, can be performed by one, two, four or eight rowers who use two oars each. In both styles, shells with eight rowers employ a nineth crew member, called a coxswain, who rides behind the rowers steering the rudder and executing race strategy, Winsler explained.
Shell racing is not to be confused with dragon boat rowing, Winsler said, which is all upperbody work. “Shell racing is about 80 percent lower body work and is only about 20 percent upper body work,” he said.
A typical practice might consist of an extended 2,000-meter warmup, followed by six 2-minute, sprint-like “pieces.” involving maximum effort, Winsler said. The high-energy sprints are sandwiched between rest periods when coaches who accompany the shells in a small launch boat critique and instruct rowers on how they can improve.
“It’s a young team, but a real promising team,” Winsler said.
Unlike football and other high school sports, rowing is a low-impact sport with a low potential for injury, said Zakaria, who’s been a ROCCS coach for three years. “But you have to be in good physical shape to do it,” he said, “which takes a lot of practice.”
Zakaria said he began rowing as a master seven years ago, shortly after his daughter, Carly, joined ROCCS.
“I used to be really fat,” he said. “I drove my daughter to practice everyday, so one day I thought, why not join? This is a good sport to keep you thin.
“Crew rowing is one of the oldest Olympic sports in the world,” Zakaria said. In addition to recruiting more school kids to the sport, he said, “We really want to grow our masters membership.”