Novice Parent Info

Everything you wanted to know about crew, but didn’t even know how to start asking. For a more general overview, please see the about page.

Welcome to the crazy and wonderful world of crew. Part sport, part day at the beach, part traveling road show. There are a ton of things that go on in front of and behind the scenes to make this all possible, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it at first. This of course is not helped by the fact that we use our own dialect, wear funny clothes, and frequently leave the state just to find a race.

The content of this page has been suggested by former novice parents like you who had to slog through their first seasons without the benefit of these invaluable informational tidbits. As a coach, I’m used to taking things for granted and watching people suffer, so until now it didn’t even occur to me to help you out. What doesn’t kill you makes you smarter, right? Or more aptly put, what doesn’t kill you makes you want to kill the guy who didn’t tell you in the first place.

So, to foster whirled peas and greater community understanding, we give you, in no particular order and with only contextual assistance with the vernacular, the ins and outs of rowing. Good luck with that.

Rich Griffith, Head Coach

Crew Safety

Any discussion of rowing is predicated upon safety. We’re on the water, it can be dangerous, and people have died in pursuit of the sport. Not often, but it’s always on our minds. We do everything we can every single time we go out on the water to prevent harm to the rowers and to the boats, and we’re good at it; we sleep well. Coach launches are mandated to be with each boat on the water, and always carry a full compliment of safety gear, including megaphones, flotation devices, hypothermic blankets, first aid, signaling equipment, and cell phones.

All rowers will watch a USRowing safety video prior to their first trip to the water, and all are required to pass a ten minute swim test.

All coaches are trained in CPR/FA, and are frequently certified lifeguards.

We do everything in our power to stay on top of the water, not in it. This is true for any rowing club or event. It is rule number one sport wide, and it is treated with the utmost seriousness.

That being said, we will row in almost all conditions except high wind and lightning. Extreme heat (90+) or cold (<40 or windchill <40) are sometimes avoided.

Inherent dangers include, but are not limited to:

  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypothermia
  • Dehydration
  • Ejection from boat (VERY rare)
  • Various cuts and bruises from improper handling of equipment
  • Various injuries resulting from repeated improper technique
  • Epidemic illness due to sharing of water bottles
  • Infected blisters

With proper attention to detail, all of these can be avoided. Here’s a little something you can do for the most notorious of them; blisters:

  • Pop blister if it hurts, using sterilized needle on at the base of the blister. If it doesn’t hurt, don’t pop it.
  • Don’t peel away the blister top unless you have to.
  • Use Neosporin repeatedly to keep it moist while the skin underneath heals.
  • You can use bandages to protect it while rowing if it is in a spot that a bandage will adhere to. Let air get to it otherwise.

Notice anything missing from this list? That’s right. Concussions. We’re a non-contact sport whose only moving objects are well secured to the hull of the boat. So unless your child somehow runs up a tree and falls out of it, we can all but guarantee a healthy brain at the conclusion of their high school rowing career. Tell your friends. Seriously. I don’t understand how parents could be ok with their kids getting their noggins clocked.

Season Overview

Crew is a two season sport, but it works like a year long sport divided into two halves. It is possible to do only one season and another sport fall or spring, but in all honesty, most kids who do this ultimately either drop the second sport or drop crew.

The Fall Season is basically preparatory. It runs from the week after Band Camp (late August) to the last weekend in October. The team spends most of its time working on technical issues, and the training is all geared towards building cardiovascular endurance and muscle memory. Races reflect this in that there are fewer of them, and they are longer, slower, and in the opinion of many: less exciting. It is necessary to get the body in shape and technically ready so that with the help of some less intense winter training indoors, the team is in a much better position to compete in the spring.

Winter training is done voluntarily, but those who attend have a definite advantage over those returning rowers who do not, and these same rowers make the boats that much faster in the races that follow. It is usually done 3-5x per week for one hour sessions.

The Spring Season is the ultimate aim of the program. This is the same sort of side by side sprint racing you see in the Olympics. Races are 6-8 minutes long in courses laid out 6-lanes wide. Very intense and thrilling to watch. Read more about regattas below.


In addition to the registration fees required to participate in sports at Pioneer, there is a General Assessment for each season that runs about $560-$600. There are also Travel Assessments which run about $150-$250 in the fall and $100-$450 in the spring, depending on how many select team regattas a rower attends in the spring. There is also some clothing that will be required for your athlete, described below.

There is a dedicated amount of scholarship money available for those who can demonstrate need, and many of our alumni rowing families continue to donate directly to this fund.

And as a segue into equipment, each rower is required to have their own 7/16 inch combination wrench with which to rig the boats. They run $4-15, depending on your basic run-of-the-mill or your fancy rachet. They should be labeled somehow for ownership identification. Wrenches are the Achilles Heel of rowing: without one, not one dang thing can happen.


The boat
The boat refers to both the craft and the athletes in it. Such as, “Coach made us rack the boat because we hit the riggers on the boathouse,” or “the boat never got focused today, so coach made us do jumpies.” Boats hold eight or four rowers and a coxswain (pronounced cox’n), and can only operate with those exact integers in the line up which is on reason why practice is mandatory.

There are two types of rowing: sweep and sculling. In sweep, our predominant variety, each rower holds one oar, which alternates from their seats out each side of the boat. Rowers are therefore at times referred to by their side, port or starboard. “I’ve rowed starboard for three weeks now and coach put me on port today. Boy did that suck.”

Sculling is done with two smaller oars in smaller boats: 1x (pronounced: single) and 2x (pronounced double). Sculling is offered for more experienced rowers in the fall and spring season, and is encouraged during the summer months on a sort of recreational basis. It is not the focus of our program, but it is a part of it.

Boats, or shells, are made primarily of carbon fiber,and come in eight, four, and two person versions. Eights are ~56′ long, weigh around 200lbs, and cost around $39,000 new; fours range around 45′ and cost ~$23,000; two-person boats a mere $14,000. We have 10 eights (demarcated 8+), 7 fours (4+), and 2 pair/doubles (2+/-). (Did I mention the weird dialect?)

The Oar (Sweep)
Also called a blade or sometimes hatchet; never ever called a row, rowing thingy, or paddle. It consists of a 12′ long hollow carbon shaft with composite blade (the working part). Its handles are polyurethane or wood (see blisters). It is rumored they can be used as a flotation device if necessary, but we’ve never had to test this theory. A set of eight oars costs $2700.
Riggers are the aluminum devices that attach to the shell to hold the oar. They have an oarlock, also called an oarlock, into which the oar is placed. The pin of the oarlock acts as a pivot point (fulcrum) upon which the rower generates sufficient leverage to propel the boat.

[Nerd aside: rowing in actuality consists of two extremely basic machines, the lever (oar) and the spring (your child). Energy is supplied to this system by two similarly simple mechanisms: the volume of the coach’s voice, and the food in your fridge, both of which are directly proportional to the speed of the boat.]

Riggers can be damaged by catching a crab, or by hitting them against immovable objects such as the sides of boathouse doors, boat racks, oar racks, boat trailers, signs, trees, cars, trucks, or other boats or their riggers. I have witnessed each of these, and in every case it has been a result of a complete lack of mental fortitude throughout the boat. It is for this reason that I will often charge the rowers and cox involved for the price of the damage. Replacement cost for riggers ranges from $45-280. I will also absolutely insist that they sit down on the erg (see below) for 75 minutes to re-affirm their dedication to the sport.

The Skeg
The skeg, or fin, is the tiny blade-like object beneath and to the stern of the boat. The skeg sits directly in front of the even tinier rudder, and the combined efforts of the two give the boat steerage. Without either one the boat is helpless and all but uncontrollable. The skeg is designed to turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble to prevent transferring energy into further damage to the hull. These frequently break off on the dock due to the aforementioned lapse of mental acuity, and will again result in a charge to the crew and time on the erg. They cost $45. “We skegged the boat on the dock today, so coach made us do 75 minutes on the erg. And I have to bring in five bucks tomorrow.”
Cox Boxes
Each boat has speakers wired into it so that the coxswain may plug in a device called a Cox Box. This device allows them to be heard clearly down the length of the boat through a microphone worn with a nifty headband, and provides information to the cox about what the crew is doing. Because nothing in rowing is cheap they cost $600. We have fourteen of them.
The Erg
The erg, short for ergometer, is a relatively innocuous piece of exercise equipment that is both surprisingly expensive and surprisingly painful. Purportedly invented by satan, the genius of the machine (which combines the lever and the spring with the wheel) is that it does a good job of simulating the resistance and physicality of the rowing motion, and give you a brutally honest, objective assessment of your performance capabilities. We have 26, and they run $1000 per.
Other pricey equipment
Boat trailer for transport to regattas, $16,000. Food trailer for regattas, $3200. Four safety launches with 15hp motors, $5000per. Ten various timing/GPS devices for the coaches/coxswains, $450per. 8 megaphones, $100. Seeing little Timmy hurl after PR-ing on his 2K, priceless.

So there you go. Think fundraising!


Practices are every day after school at the boathouse. Sometimes we may try to sneak in a Saturday practice, but generally the weekends are used for racing. Kids show up, help set up the coach launches, take down oars or bring out ergs, then we try to get right to it. Water time is precious, so we won’t wait around for any latecomers. Show up before on time, and be ready.

A typical practice will consist of a brief meeting with the coach and their crews to discuss the workout and set line-ups, 75-90 minutes on the water, then a brief meeting with the boat once the shell and oars are returned to the boathouse.

Practice is mandatory. Period. The reason why, other than that we’re teaching your child to be responsible for their commitments, is that the boat can’t go out without all eight rowers and a coxswain. If one kid fails to show, it could very well mean that eight others are screwed up by his/her absence. (Consider your car leaving the garage without a wheel, or perhaps the driver. No fun there.) This still happens more often than one might think, and it never fails to completely tick off the staff and crewmates. Please read more about practice here and adhere to the attendance policy guidelines as best as humanly possible.

Carpooling to Practice

As soon as we can at the start of the season we will try to set up carpools to and from practice. We understand the difficulties of getting your kids to the corner of town at 4pm, and will do what we can to find everyone a ride. More information about getting to practice is available on the transportation page.


The only real crucial piece of clothing necessary are trou (pronounced trow). Spandex shorts. Absolutely perfect for a coed environment of this age group. No sir, nothing awkward here. An unfortunate necessity that instantly teaches your youngster to get over it and move on. JL Racing makes of our preferred brand of rowing short which is required for regattas. For practice regular spandex shorts will be cheaper, since you’ll want multiple pairs, and will suffice. As for tops, most kids practice in regular old t-shirts.

In case you were wondering, we have a dress code. Guys are not allowed to remove their tops, and the ladies cannot row in merely a sports bra, nor are they allowed to roll their shorts down at the waist. It may look like we’re rowing in our underwear, but we do have standards.

Competition tanks are issued at no expense to anyone who wants one, but generally this is limited to novices. Team unisuits for competition are encouraged for continuing rowers and are purchased at the beginning of each season through a bulk team order, but at the rowers expense (~$70).

In the first two weeks of practice each season we have an organized clothing order for various Pioneer Crew gear; tees, sweats, hats, jackets, duffles, etc. They will need an outer garment for regattas, either a sweatshirt or a jacket, which come in two styles and are $65 and $215. See the clothing page for more details on ordering clothes.

About jackets. The thing is, at some of these races, particularly in the fall, they’ll leave the dock in their racing trou and tanks and have to row to the startline for up to 40 minutes before they race back. We will do this in the cold and in the rain, so it’s good for them to have some protection.

Imagine if you will sitting in your bathtub, in your underwear, under a shower with no hot water at all. For three quarters of an hour. Ok, now move the tub outside (hi neighbors!). Now get the biggest fan you have and set it up next to you. While you may or may not have some extenuating circumstances necessitating this odd behavior, your kids will do this purely for the love of the sport. We should help them out, just a little.

Long legged trou and long sleeve athletic shirts under their tanks will help and sometimes be necessary. If it’s raining a sweatshirt will merely water log, so it’s better to have one of the jackets. The less expensive model is not as water resistant but does a better job than sweats, and the more expensive model is Goretex and is the most effective.

We don’t expect you to buy a $215 jacket for a kid who may quit after one season, but we want you to be aware that your son or daughter will likely need protection from the elements sooner or later. Remember our last regatta is in early November, and we hit the water just after the ice clears in March. When outfitting your precious, try to avoid green. There’s a high school downwind of us and a college up the road that have a strange affinity for the color. I find it to be crude and boorish.

Oh, and one last thing. PUT YOUR KID’S NAME IN ANYTHING YOU VALUE. Every purple jacket looks just like the next one, and every season we donate a garbage bag full of clothes left behind and unclaimed.


It’s what we call races. When we go to a regatta, we take apart the entire fleet, load the boats, oars, riggers, and accessories into our 41′ trailer, get on a bus or two, or carpool if it’s local, and head off down the road. We basically move the boathouse with us. We also pack up a food trailer and bring it along, because the foraging at some of these regatta sites is pretty meager.

When we arrive at the regatta site, which is on the banks of a river or reservoir, the kids set up the boats while the parents set up the food. Coaches run around getting the race details straight and make sure the equipment is ready to go. The other 20-30 teams present are all busy doing the same thing.

We typically arrive at a regatta between 6-6:30, and will remain until 4pm. Fall regattas last only one day, but several in spring run two or even three.

Fall Regattas

Also known as Head Races, fall racing is much like cross country running. It’s done at a slower pace over longer distances. Courses will be 4.5-5.5km, or about 3mi, and last from 16-20 minutes. Boats will depart from a dock, row up the course to the start line, turn around, and race back down in a continuous single file progression. The racing is therefore done against the clock, and is timed by using continuous timing on the water by tracking assigned bow numbers.
What you will see from shore is a constant stream of boats coming down the course. Your child’s boat will launch and disappear around the bend, and 45-60 minutes later they¹ll come down to the finish line. No one will know who has won until the times are calculated and the scores are posted by the regatta staff.

Spring Regattas

Spring Sprint Races are the reason we do everything we do. 1.5-2km, 6 lanes of side by side racing. Same launching and recovery procedure as fall, but the time frame is compressed, and you’ll be able to see most of the race. Generally there are heats which determine who gets to the finals, so there are multiple races in one day, or over the course of the weekend for larger events.

Overnight Regattas

We attend two overnight regattas in the fall and up to three in the spring. We charter commercial busses, travel as a team, and stay four to a room in hotels near the sites. In fall we leave after school, in spring we leave earlier in the day to get a practice at the site. Busses travel with two parent chaperones each, who are also in charge of the crew at the hotel.

We work hard to keep our kids on their best behavior on the road, and they respond incredibly well to this. We frequently have requests by our bus lines and hotels for repeat business, and we always get unsolicited compliments on our sportsmanship, good behavior, and responsibility. Regattas are not field trips, or dates, or parties. Our rowers are unequivocally clear on this point.

Scrimmages at home on Argo pond

Your rower/coxswain needs to be at the boathouse at the posted time even if they don’t row right away. Keep in mind, parking is tight down there.

Parking options:

  • North Bandemer Park—up river from the boathouse and only car accessible by Barton Drive (yes… the other side of the River/Pond). There is a nice walking path to our area and a foot bridge which is near where they will be starting to race. You will also glimpse them along the path near the M-14 bridge.
  • Argo Park—across the river off of Pontiac Trail. Follow the signs to park near the Argo Canoe Livery and then walk across the river over the Argo Dam.

Viewing areas:

  • Anywhere along the path between N. and S. Bandermer parks, where you can see water.
  • Argo Canoe Livery area
  • Near our dock, but the “chute” must remain clear at all times (this is the paved ramp/pathway onto the dock); also, no viewing or entry onto the dock at all—keep well to the sides.
  • My favorite—down near Argo Dam—follow the path and there are open areas with a great view up past the dock.

Attending Regattas

Most regattas are free for spectators and are a lot of fun to attend. Look for our food tent or the crowd of people in purple and white clothing near the shore and join us for an inspirational “Pi-on-eer” cheer! Also, please volunteer some of your time to help the team at the event. Regattas simply would not happen without the support of families. While the kids and coaches are doing their thing, volunteer parents are busy setting up the food tents and getting ready to feed the starving hoards.

Aside from that, it’s important you bring other necessities to the events. Here are some suggestions:

For the rowers

You never know what weather you’ll encounter during the course of a regatta. Your rower should bring:

  • 7/16 inch combination wrench with which to rig the boats
  • Extra socks… always and forever.
  • Team tank (Rich will pass these out) and black trou
  • Extra black trou
  • Warm stuff to wear when not rowing
  • Hat/sunglasses and sunscreen
  • A gear bag: does not have to be the team one (and I’m not sure when those are coming)—but for all races, all kids need a securely closeable bag that can hold all extra clothes PLUS the jackets/sweats that they wear in the cold of the morning.
  • Plastic bag for wet stuff

LABEL SWEATS, JACKETS, ETC: When the kids get their “crew” t’s and sweats they all look alike and you’d be surprised how many kids have similar other things.

For the spectators

Here are some items you may want to bring to a regatta:

  • Chairs to spend lazy afternoons by the water during regattas
  • Binoculars, if you have them
  • Sun Glasses and a hat and SUNSCREEN
  • A book or an iPod
  • Camera, the team needs pictures of the novices in action
  • Rain gear, including boots
  • Bicycles work well at many venues so you can see more of the race

The Club generally reserves a few extra rooms for parents who wish to attend overnight regattas. The location of the event is also posted with our schedule, so you can find other accommodations near by.

Additional Parent Contributions to Crew

There are over a hundred different volunteering jobs that need to be done by parents over the course of the year. These range from board membership to food trailer transportation to chaperoning to food purchasing to event organization and on and on. Once you get a feel for how we do things, look for a way you can help with as much of your time as you can.

Results of our workouts and the crew experience

If they stick with us, we will get your child into the best shape they’ve ever been in, and perhaps the best shape of their life. Make no mistake, this sport is hard to master and requires superior fitness. We will get them there, so help us out. They’re going to start eating more than you could imagine, like 3-4000+ calories per day in some cases. Be ready for it and provide good nutritional food. If you’re vegetarians be extra careful that daily requirements are being met. And remind them to stay continuously hydrated.

A key ancillary benefit of crew is that it will force them to budget their time more effectively than they have in the past. They’ll learn quickly to come home, eat, then hit the books as fast as they can before exhaustion takes over. Somehow they all learn it. We boast one of the highest GPAs in the school, and the entire staff stresses the importance of grades first.

The district policy is to put a kid on a week to week travel card if they get below a 2.0 or have an E in two classes. I’m a bit more demanding. Anything below 2.5 gets a nice conversation, as does any grade of C or lower. If the GPA gets around 2.1 I will recommend dropping crew for the duration of the season, and in some cases insist. I’ve gotten some resistance from parents in the past who say that crew is the only thing that keeps little Timmy working hard. I say, if working hard results in a 2.1, it isn¹t hard enough, and the removal of the distraction will help. Crew is a privilege, not a right, and we¹re not running this team for you to use as a motivational tool.

Moving on. Your child will develop close friendships with other members of the team, transcending grade and gender lines. We really are a coed sport, with boys practicing side by side with girls, and when we travel and compete, the entire team has to help each other out all day long, so you’ll find Seniors helping frosh and everything in between. We like to see as much integration as possible, and we’re a better, faster, and more well behaved team as a result of it.

To finish up tooting our horn, here’s what one parent sent along, verbatim, to add to this page:

Crew provides extremely high overall value per dollar to your child, including:

  • Athletic training- your child will become amazingly fit
  • Sportsmanship- great sportsmanship is taught, and a core part of Crew
  • Top notch coaching- Our coaches are the best! Consistently take our kids to State, Regional, and National championships
  • Rigorous, reasonable training schedule- after school
  • Co-ed team- chance to belong, meet life-long friends, and build healthy social skills
  • Travel- opportunity to travel- overnight regattas
  • Competition- compete on state, regional and national (and international-Canada) levels
  • Build confidence and maturity- your child will grow into a role that requires commitment to the team, taking on responsibilities to care for each other and the equipment. This is the only team sport I’m aware of where the “team” (crew) is completely separated from the coaching staff during the actual competition (race)- to me this is an amazing leap for novice rowers- self reliance and needing to completely rely on each other.
  • Pioneer Crew provides an extremely robust and supportive parent group to ease you and your child into the sport, make you feel welcome, and provide opportunities to become involved.
  • Pioneer Crew prides itself on providing the best, state-of-the-art equipment for our rowers, to make them competitive on any level, and provides a safe experience to create world class athletes, great-well rounded young men and women, and future leaders.


Some Final Advice

Take the learn to row class at Ann Arbor Rowing Club next summer.

Attend the beginning of the year events, really helps parents get up to speed and you get the chance to quickly learn how nice everyone is.

Join our Facebook page where there is always discussion and photos about past and present PRC rowing.

Have fun and be enthusiastic and flexible because nothing seems to go as planned, but always works out in the end.

Be careful. This sport has a sneaky way of becoming addictive. Your entire life may soon revolve around it, and the whole family may become involved, both from the shore and within the boat.

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