What to Wear
Locarno kayakers, sailors, stand-up-paddlers, and windsurfers wear wetsuits. In each of these activities, there is a fair chance of capsize, and a high likelihood of prolonged immersion once you are in. For open-water rowers, things are not so simple.
Rowing entails a great deal of motion, and a rower produces heat. For these reasons, rubber or neoprene clothing is usually too hot and restrictive. Exceptions to this are “fuzzy rubber,” (ultra light rubberized shirts) and stretch shorty suits, both of which can be useful below 10 degrees C or when the spray flies. The appeal of a wetsuit increases with the probability of capsize, of course; if you are a new rower and still feeling unsteady, or if you are working on your heavy-weather technique, you may decide to trade off some comfort for the security of a wetsuit.
Most rowers dress roughly the same way as cyclists or Nordic skiers would dress in similar weather conditions, or one or two layers more than a runner would wear in similar conditions. Remember that it is usually colder on the water and that splash and spray can be a factor.
Some guidelines for dressing:
- Dress in layers
- Windproof/waterproof layer outside
- Avoid cotton
- Stretch is key – unrestricted arm and leg motion, stretch waistband
- Roll-up legs or shorts for launching
- Nothing too slippery for pants – spandex tights tend to slid off the seat
- Snug on top so your hands don’t get snagged
- Nothing dangling or long in the back (gets caught in the track)
- Leave your rings at home – they will raise blisters very quickly
A warm hat (woollen or pile watch cap) is a very effective means of slowing heat loss, particularly if the rest of you is soaking wet. Sailing or cycling gloves are often worn to ward off blisters, but avoid leather; it will stiffen and crack in our salt-water environment.
Many rowers wear neoprene shoes or booties, mainly for the launch and recovery. They will easily fit in the stretchers, and the feet will be warm and wet for the duration of the row. Another approach is to wear water sandals or old runners for the launch, and remove them once in the boat if they are incompatible with the stretchers (but they should be easy on/off). Bare feet are fine to row in, but may not withstand the barnacles and rocks exposed at lower tides. Rubber boots are not ideal; they can be difficult to fit in the stretcher, and there is about a 50% chance of flooding them when you launch properly.