Personal Characteristics of Rowers

To those new to rowing, and even to those who once had roommates that rowed, the following descriptions may help you better understand rowers. These personal characteristics refer to oars in a standard rigged eight-oared shell with starboard bow and port stroke and are derived from the astute and careful observation of the author, teammates, and coaches after many long hours of rowing. One will note striking similarities with Mike Sullivan’s personality traits of rowers at – there just might be some scientific basis out there to explain rowers after all!
— Gary Lundeen, Starboard 5 from '75

Sound Off! Bow! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Stroke! Cox!

Bow: The rower who rows in the one-seat, which is closest to the bow. Bow-oars cannot stop talking! Bows cynically and incessantly critique every stroke, every piece, and every oar, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! They direct all kinds of witty and pithy remarks to the stern three and the cox – none of whom can even hear them! Bows are quite simply mouths that never stop. You love them off the water, though – they are the life of the party with never-ending jokes and gags that are guaranteed to keep you laughing at least until you’re back on the water again.

Two: The rower who rows in the two-seat. The two-oar is an eternal optimist – the Pollyanna in a crew. To a two every piece is “Great!”, “Fantastic!”, or “Outstanding!” Twos are the oars who keep saying “Let’s turn her around and do it again!” Off the water twos are great to have around for sheer, non-stop, story-telling entertainment – never is so little said in so many words by such pretentious provocateurs of prodigious puffery! Being in their presence and hearing them speak is like experiencing an eighth wonder of the world.

Three: The rower who rows in the three-seat. Threes are enigmas. You never know what threes are thinking, in fact, they always seem to be dreaming. Absolutely, positively nothing perturbs a three! Neither physical pain nor bearing the brunt of another’s wrath causes a three to flinch or wince. What fortitude, what courage, what stamina – what’s wrong with threes? Strong indications are that a three’s stupor is the result of an involuntary thought process that develops in the brain’s cerebrum to block the harangues and rants of bow and two. Three’s drive is really strong, though.

Four: The rower who rows in the four-seat. Fours are inquisitive. But, fours are also port-oars. And, on the water an inquisitive port is a woeful combination. Fours are always thinking to themselves when rowing, “Bow says I’m shooting my slide and that five is late at the catch; two says this was the best piece we ever rowed; seven says the boat has no swing; stroke says we’re doing fine, we just need to concentrate more on the rhythm; cox says the blankety, blank, blank, blankety, blank boat is not set. What does this all mean? Am I actually rowing in this boat? Where’s my head?” Four’s inquisitive mind overloads with all the conflicting claptrap emanating from the bow and stern and on the water four goes bonkers. Nonetheless, four’s drive is really, really strong.

Five: The rower who rows in the five-seat. When God made perfection He made a five-oar and then broke the mold! Five-oars are handsome or beautiful but never cute. Fives are the biggest, baddest, strongest rowers in the boat and some will say “not the quickest catch before the drive”. Accuse five-oars of being narcissistic and their first thought is “What’s that big word?” but their reply is “Yeah, Baby!” Hey, when you look so darn good all the rest is just details. Along with fours, fives hear all the gibber-jabber from the bow pair, stern pair, and cox. In fact, four and five are the only two in the shell who hear it all – the cynicism and cheerleading from the bow and the pessimism, cajoling, and complaining from the stern. Did we all just row the same piece?!? Fortunately, fives have a gift to ignore absolutely everything that anyone ever says.

Six: The rower who rows in the six-seat. Six-oars are quiet and serious and five-oars love them because on the water they never talk, their drive is strong, and they just simply row! Hallelujah! And, how sixs row! God Bless’em! Six is that unique oar who is not only one of the rowers in the engine room but is also the most technically proficient rower in the shell who along with seven and stroke set the tone for the swing of the boat. Off the water the other oars are forever telling six to “lighten up already – we’re off the water”. If you ever want to make a good impression on someone, though, hang with a six, introduce six to that special someone, and then let six do all the talking while you act interested and nod and look serious in order to give the impression that you’re just as intellectual as six. Whatever you do bite your tongue and don’t speak – especially if you’re a bow.

Seven: The rower who rows in the seven-seat. The seven-oar is the most technically proficient starboard rower and complements the six-oar. On the other hand, seven is an eternal pessimist – the antithesis of a two-oar. To a seven every piece is a calamity wrapped in a disaster inside a catastrophe. Row a perfect piece and seven will give you exactly 13.579 reasons why the piece was an abysmal failure. If you ever need to be bailed-out of a really bad situation, though, get a seven on your side – particularly if you’re a four.

Stroke: The rower who rows in the seat closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm and cadence for the crew. Strokes are continually coaxing and cajoling the oars to bring their rowing up-a-notch – as if there is a higher notch! Stroke and coxswain continuously communicate and strategize – when to settle, when to power-10, when to power-20, when to flutter, when to sprint. If the shell was a ship the cox would be CO and the stroke would be OPS. But, a shell is not a ship and the crew, especially five, constantly remind them both of that fact.

Coxswain (also known as Cox): The person who steers the shell and is the crew’s on-the-water skipper. Essentially, a coxswain’s duties are to steer the shell and complain, strategize with the stroke and complain, call for power-10s and power-20’s and complain, and call for flutters and complain and complain and complain and complain! Never-ending complaining! But, all that complaining does prepare oars very well for eventually entering that special institution called marriage.

Bow pair: The two oars closest to the bow. Two of the most technically proficient rowers in an eight are bow and two and their rowing skill is essential for establishing the set of the shell, but they just talk so darn much that no one ever wants to tell them.

Engine room: The middle four in an eight – three, four, five, and six – who are the biggest and strongest rowers in the shell (ugh, drive strong, ugh, go fast, ugh, get cox after row, ugh).

Stern pair and cox: The stern pair in an eight is seven and stroke and along with the cox these three are the leaders in a shell with cox as CO, stroke as OPS, and seven as CHENG; however, the other rowers will never offer this tidbit of information to non-rowers. And, of course, fives won’t admit this anyway believing five is always master of the boat as admiral and master chief and ensign and seaman all in one.

Let ‘er run!