John Parnell’s rowing man-cave

The big green thing is an old winch that I restored from a rusty old heap of steel found in a corner of the shed.

The other photo includes the “John Barton” Stampfli doubles, given to me by West End. Frank and Alf Hansen of Norway won gold in it at the 1978 World Champs. Then sold to West End and used by Tony Hurt and John White who won about 5 Redcoat titles in the boat, coached by my Dad (Wally Parnell). Boat was named after my father’s rowing mate in the 30s and 40s, Johnnie Barton. I was named after John.

The other boat is my Swift coastal singles which I’m trying to make use of in between replacing piles underneath the boatshed.

The boats on the racks are at various stages of repair for the Otago Rowing Club

Insider there’s plenty of room

Eva Hofmans helping paint my flagpole.

The winch

Close up of the flag and stampfli double

The boathouse from the water

Hurry Slowly

At last you can start rowing on the water again. Your instincts tell you to seize your oars and row, rejoicing that erging is over once again. No doubt it feels good to go pump out a 15k, toss in some starts, and sweat. You’ll be euphoric; you’ll probably also have blisters, sore muscles, balance and bladework problems.

So, if your goal this season is to move your boat more meters per second, should you really just go tear up the waterways?  Paying attention to details, while easing back into your boat will pay out dividends later in the season. Avoiding a madcap approach might also mean a little more indoor rowing and a careful transition.

You need to allow yourself a tuning period of a few weeks when getting back on the water. Give your hands time to adjust to a different handle size or texture. Check that your grips are in good shape and replace them if you need to. Remember that you haven’t feathered an oar for a long time so you will have to be aware of correct hand placement and handle manipulation from the start. Sweep rowers again need to isolate the functions of their hands so the inside hand feathers and the outside hand controls the height. Scullers should keep the thumbs at the handle’s end and resist palming the narrow handles. Attending to flat wrists and keeping the forearms level with the water is important to minimise extra motion.

The boat is a reactive environment, so many of your smaller trunk muscles that have not been used during the down time will fatigue before your larger power muscles will. Your initial sessions are, in effect, limited by the endurance capacity of your stabilising muscles. When you start to fatigue and catch yourself balancing the boat by swaying your knees-you need to go in. During early season rowing, care needs to be taken to row well and prevent any type of overuse syndrome that will linger into the season. Keep in mind that a muscle strain typically can take six to eight weeks to heal. 

Scandinavian cross-country skiers have a training motto that says, “Hurry slowly”. When you get back in your boat this season, put technical emphasis on balance and blade work. This requires patient kilometers of low stroke rate work between 16 to 20 strokes per minute and exercises for the entry and release such as pausing at half-slide, one-quarter slide rowing, or legs-only. Groove in good movement patterns, but be aware that you also can’t afford to lose fitness. This is where the erg comes in. The initial transition to the water requires lower power applications until you are comfortable, so putting in some work on the erg can be key to keeping your fitness level up during the transition time. Row your workouts that are above steady state intensity on the erg so you can work at a high enough aerobic level. Gradually, build the pressure up on the water until you can maintain technique under more stress. Being diligent about taking the time to practice good blade work which will give you more boat speed once you start ramping up the cadences later in the season.

Next time you get ready to push off from the pontoon for your distance row, remember another rowing proverb,  “If you can’t do it slow, you can’t do it fast”.


Lee Spear – World Rowing’s man in NZ

How does a kiwi get to represent the Pacific region at the highest level for World Rowing?

I was reading the World Rowing website and noticed a formal announcement that Lee Spear (New Zealand) was retiring from his position. I was intrigued and delighted – it’s great that we have local folks working for global organisations and so I decided to ask Lesley Milne (who knows everyone) if she could introduce me… 

Lee Spear FISA umpire

Lee Spear – World Rowing Umpire

Lee told me a bit about his background in rowing (a bit at University and then a renewed interest when his children started rowing). He qualified as a NZ umpire in 2000 and as an international umpire in 2007 after which he was appointed the Competition Director for the 2010 World Rowing Championships at Karapiro. This was  a giant job involving responsibility for the umpire, umpiring launches, control commission, weighing and safety.  Lee confesses it was a bit more than he’d expected, it took 3 years’ work but he got noticed for his expertise.

His interest in the administration of international rowing had begun. He said “I like to make sure things are set up and run correctly.” So when work took him to Vanuatu for 3 years in 2011 he was instrumental in getting an international rowing programme going there – the crews got some creditable results too. 

Having come to the notice of World Rowing, they invited Lee to join the World Rowing Council as the “Continental Representative for Oceania”. The job is to represent World Rowing in this region. Lee is only the third person ever to hold this position – Don Rowlands did 23 years, John Coates of Australia did 17 years, and Lee has just completed 7 years until forced to retire, being 70 last year.

What does the World Rowing Council do?

Lee explained that the Council is responsible for ensuring compliance with the statutes and rules of  World Rowing. They make decisions around allocation of venues for international events (World Cups, World Championships) these follow an elaborate evaluation process. There are usually 3 Council meetings a year of which two are in Europe and one is normally after the World Championships. 

It may sound glamorous travelling to Europe, but Lee assured me that usually he went to London, stayed at an airport hotel for 3 days for the Council meeting, and then got on an airport bus back to Heathrow to come home. The travel wasn’t much fun. 

Lee has been involved in some meaty issues during his time ranging from gender identity (he drafted the rules to establish a gender advisory panel), lightweights at the Olympics, and dealing with the fallout from the Russian Olympic drugs scandal. He mentions that he’s particularly proud of the gender equity in World Rowing Executive Committee and Council (50:50) and the recent change to include the Chair of the Athletes Commission (currently, Frida Svensson) on the Executive Committee.

Mostly his expertise has been called on for the Rules Working Group. Every Olympic Cycle the rules of racing are reviewed. Changes can be made by Congress after each Olympics. There’s a small team who spend time reviewing the rules and rewriting them to reflect new situations and needs. His legal brain has been much in demand for this work.  Notwithstanding that he has retired from the World Rowing Council, he has recently been reappointed to the Rules Working Group for the current Olympic Cycle to 2024.

Is the LA short course rumour true?

Yes it is true, the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic rowing regatta will be run on about a 1,500 meter course at Long Beach.  Lee explained, “The Long Beach location was chosen for many good reasons. There is a lake venue but it is a long way away and has no buildings and no amenities meaning everything would have to be brought in compared to the established Long Beach location.  Long Beach will be a dynamic rowing venue.” 

The shorter course requirements are being reviewed by Paul Fuchs from the Technical Commission. He’s a naval architect and is working with other marine specialists on the movement of tide and current to ensure that the racing will be fair.  It’s likely the races will be at different times on different days.

These days Lee paddles his coastal single on Lake Tarawira when he’s not at home in Hamilton. And he hasn’t stopped working for Rowing – he is the current President of the Oceania Rowing Confederation, (ORCON) that includes Rowing Australia, Rowing New Zealand, the Vanuatu Rowing Association and the American Samoa Rowing Association.  The focus of ORCON is to grow the sport of rowing in the Pacific Island countries with an emphasis on coastal rowing as that is more suited to both the physical environment and the available athletes. Coastal rowing is also likely to be included as a sport in the 2028 Olympics at Los Angeles.

Retro Regatta Rogues Gallery (2)