Science - May 11, 2006

‘We start at stuurboord’

‘It’s a Dutch sport, I wanted to get to know other people, and I have no time during the week.’ Dasha, who is from Russia and doing an MSc in Environmental Sciences, has no problem summarising why she started going to Argo, the student rowing club, at weekends.

Saturday 6 May she stepped into a boat with two other international students for a practice. Sergey from Belarus came with her to see what she’s so enthusiastic about, and Giorgio from Italy has been before and also had some rowing experience back home. A Dutch Argo-rower made up the four in the boat on this beautiful day. It was windy but warm, and the water was sparkling in the sun. The only problem was the heavy current on the Rhine. To make sure they didn’t end up in the neighbouring town of Rhenen, the rowers stayed in the harbour canal for their training.

But first they had to carry their boat to the water, put it in and get the oars. ‘We get into the boat to the count of one, two, three,’ directed Argo-president and coach-for-the-day Bernd, to make sure the rowers end up safely in the narrow boat. Dasha left her slip-ons on the jetty, and fastened the straps around her bare feet. ‘We start at stuurboord,’ Bernd commanded as they slowly pushed off from the side. He used the Dutch word on purpose: ‘Inexperienced rowers would have to learn new words in English too, so it makes no difference if they learn the terms they need in Dutch. It’s also handy when they’re in a boat with Dutch rowers,’ explains Bernd. They started off with just two at a time rowing, to keep the boat stable while they practised the strokes. Later, once they’d reached the harbour canal, all four got going and the speed increased. Their white paddles reflected in the sunlight as they glided along.

After going up and down the canal for more than an hour, they returned with a reasonably satisfied coach. ‘A new team is always a bit unstable in the boat at first, but today it went surprisingly well.’ Sergey, a PhD student in Biochemistry enjoyed his first lesson. His only previous experience in a boat was when he spent ten days going down a river in a kayak. ‘I also I like being in the open air. I spend a lot of time at my computer, but I try not to work during the weekend.’

Dasha, who comes almost every week, worked on her main problem during the practice: turning her blade in time. She heard about rowing the first week after she arrived in Wageningen, last September. ‘I really like the friendly atmosphere here, the parties and the feeling of tradition. It’s also nice to meet new people and be outdoors.’

Giorgio, who is doing an MSc in Food Safety, even shows interest in rowing during the week, when he hears about the Spring period, a six-week introduction that starts soon. He won’t be the first international student to join Argo. The club has several international members, including one on the board, and a handful of internationals who row regularly at weekends. Students from European countries show most interest in the sport. But first the boat has to be rinsed off, dried, and carried back into the boathouse. / YdH

Information about weekend rowing for international students: www.wsr-argo.nl

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