When rowing crew, each rower is attempting to achieve a flow-like state called “swing” with the other members of the boat.
Legendary sportswriter Paul Gallico — who rowed in the six-seat of an outstanding 1921 Columbia crew — described the bonding process every squad undergoes when it coheres from a group of individuals to a single crew. “We became one with the boat and our fellow oarsmen and felt ourselves as giants, since one’s own power applied to the shell was multiplied by eight,” he wrote. “Not often, but from time to time, there are moments when a good crew really blends together, bringing an ineffable delight to the rower as he feels his shell surge forward beneath him. Eight oars whip out of the water in unison; eight oars dip again and one feels a great exultation in one’s breast.”
This “great exultation” is known to all oarsmen as “swing.” Swing is ephemeral and almost indescribable. It’s the challenge that keeps oarsmen rowing. It’s the moment when the physical propulsion of a shell evolves into a metaphysical feeling of transcendence. This is the essence of crew.
As with other sporting endeavors like free throw shooting and putting in golf, excelling in rowing requires relaxed concentration.
Rowing is a paradoxical quest. To row effectively, an athlete must be simultaneously graceful and brutal, intense and relaxed, thoughtful and robotic.