The old man and the lake

Patrick Bardelli
Zurich, on 10.01.2019
Location: Lake Zurich. Challenge: a 250 metre rowing sprint. Today, I'm at the Belvoir Rowing Club doing sports with Jonathan Perraudin. Or rather, wanting to do sports. Frankly, I’ve got other problems to deal with.

Firstly: It’s cold. And when I say cold, I mean cold. It’s this cold (holds pinkie in air). You get the picture. But they do say you should move anti-cyclical. So I take to the water while the rest of the world is zipping down snowy pistes in their heated long johns. Secondly, I don’t know the first thing about rowing. Clueless and frozen stiff in a rowing boat. This is not going to go well. Or is it?

Belvoir RC’s Jonathan Perraudin has agreed to show me the basics of rowing in a crash course. After completion, I’m supposed to challenge him to a race. Find out how I got myself into this situation here:

*Early-morning rowing** on Lake Zurichvideo


Even I could do that

There’s a little know-it-all in all of us. Especially when it comes to sports, we’re quick to say we would have done this or that quite differently and much better. Come on, it can’t be that hard – it looks so easy on TV! After all, how challenging can a bit of rowing be anyway? Did you watch the video above? Then you know the truth.

We’ve got the lake all to ourselves.
We’ve got the lake all to ourselves.
All aboard – and stay aboard.
All aboard – and stay aboard.

Just climbing into a so-called type C gig rowing boat proves challenging. Although this type of boat is considerably more stable on water than a race boat, I still spend most of my time on the lake trying not to fall into the water. That’s why Jonathan keeps reminding me to push the oars out with my thumbs to stabilise the boat. He also instructs me to drop both blades equally deep into the water. It’s also important to put the same amount of strength into both oars to avoid going round in circles. Always drawing the left hand over the right one – it’s old sailor’s wisdom. Don’t forget to turn the oar blades... and relax. It’s that simple.

Who’s got the hang of this?

Jonathan Perraudin studies mechanical engineering at ETH. He took up rowing about twelve years ago. As a teenager, Jonathan tried rowing as part of a school sports programme and has stuck to it ever since. He enjoys two-person and eight-person rowing most, as teamwork is the aspect he likes best when it comes to this sport. As well as being outdoors. I totally get the appeal, despite all the shaking my boat’s doing. It’s 9 a.m. and we practically have Lake Zurich to ourselves. Wisps of mist are hanging over the hills, the sun is shining and making the lake glisten. The whole setting feels somewhat enchanted.

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«Use your thumbs to push the oars out, Patrick. Now! Or the boat will capsize.» Jonathan’s voice breaks my daydream. What was it again that I learned sitting on the ergometer? Catch, drive, finish, recover, repeat. The basic rowing technique. I’m gradually mastering it on dry land. But not on water.

Too left or too right

«You need to align your boat, you’re rowing one-sidedly.» Without me realising, we’ve drifted a fair bit away from the shore. What’s more, we’ve been rowing too far to the right of the lake because of me. Time to backtrack. «You need to align your boat, you’re rowing one-sidedly. Just go to the other side now.» Poor Jonathan has had to put up with a lot because of me. I’m one-sided. Straying left, straying right – I’ve always struggled to find my centre.

Challenge? No thank you!

After a good half hour, I’ve gone numb. Hands? Clammy. Legs? Frozen stiff. The rest? Totally tense. Relaxed? Far from it. I give up. What about the challenge, I hear you say? Originally, I was supposed to race Jonathan in a 250-metre sprint. With an aggressive number of oar strokes. About 32 per minute. Well you can forget about that. All I want to do is get back to shore and into the warmth. But all of a sudden, on the way back to the jetty, I’m overcome by a sensation of what proper rowing might feel like. For a few seconds and a handful of strokes, I can imagine how things would be if I practiced this regularly. However, I keep these thoughts to myself.

Once we’ve reached the jetty, I’m just relieved to feel firm ground under my feet. I failed the challenge and yet I want to say a big thank you to Jonathan Perraudin for this exceptional experience.

The next episode of «Patrick gets active with...»

I’m done with freezing and off to the indoor climbing hall in Schlieren. My next challenge: bouldering. Follow me to lofty heights here.

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Patrick Bardelli
Patrick Bardelli
Senior Editor, Zurich
What matters isn’t how well you play when you’re playing well. What matters is how well you play when you’re playing badly.

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