Experiencing a Cambridge rowing camp
My time at Cambridge has offered some surreal experiences, from hedonistic balls to formal halls, weird traditions to simpler things like the constant beautiful surroundings. One thing that always seems pretty surreal, however, is rowing.
When I step back from my position in my college boat club, I realise how weird it is that:
a) rowing is so ubiquitous in Cambridge,
b) the river Cam is literally never empty because of this,
and c) rowing has become such a big factor in my university experience.
I am a cox for my college boat club, which means I don’t actually row but steer the boat and provide motivation for the rowers. This kind of makes my experience even weirder: I experience all the joys and benefits of rowing without all of the hard work and exhaustion.
Much like the commonplace luxuries of Cambridge, the surrealism of rowing usually fades into my subconscious. However, going on rowing camp recently was a stark reminder of how lucky I am to experience such surrealism.
‘Rowing camp’ is an experience usually reserved for top university crews and Olympic athletes. However, it does also extend to a few Oxbridge colleges who want to get some winter training in nicer conditions than they would get at home.
Cambridge rowing mainly consists of queuing behind the other boats that are out in the morning, so getting some time on open water is a great opportunity for the rowers to develop their technique uninhibited. It’s also a great opportunity for coxes to experience open-water steering and to experiment with their calls.
It’s another example of how prestigious rowing is – that such camps are funded by the University or individual colleges, where the same isn’t true for more popular sports like football or netball.
Ordinarily, rowing is a sport experienced only by the privately-educated or people with the funds to pay for expensive membership fees (or just people lucky enough to live close to generous clubs). In Cambridge, however, it’s something of a rite of passage: thousands of students are involved across the University, and the Lent and May Bumps are an incredible experience unparalleled by any other rowing competition (except maybe Oxford’s Torpids) in the world.
Cambridge rowing is probably the most accessible form of rowing. Even if some members of each boat club come to university having rowed before, each college runs a novice programme, and Michaelmas of every year is dominated by races designed specifically for novice rowers.
At my college, I don’t have to pay for membership or race entries, kit is subsidised, and so is camp. A supportive and inclusive atmosphere is created, and we have loads of social events every term that bring the club together.
A big one of those is camp – (some) seniors and novices come together properly for the first time, train hard, eat together and bond over their shared love of rowing. No really, we only talk about rowing for an entire week. It’s pretty intense.