Give Him a Hand

By Connor Walters

Photo by Peter Spurrier.

Late in 2017 a video surfaced on YouTube showing a man rowing a single. He carefully demonstrated the rowing stroke, focusing on the release. Yet when his hands approached his body with his oars, neither his wrists nor his hands did anything—the oars feathered themselves.

That man is Bob Hurley, a veteran adaptive coach at Louisville Rowing Club and successful inventor of self-feathering oars.

“We had a gentleman who had an issue with his hands and couldn’t feather and square, and if he got out in rough water and windy conditions he couldn’t feather and square,” Hurley said. That problem, common among adaptive rowers, was an opportunity for Hurley.

“I was banging around in my own basement and finally had something that was simple and effective and anybody could use it,” he said. “It’s a metal bracket that fits under the pin and basically the handle is free-spinning; you don’t have to move your hands to feather and square.”

After the video attracted some attention, Hurley took it down for some more editing, but his plans for sharing the gift of self-feathering oars are in the works. A friend who also runs an adaptive rowing program plans to manufacture a kit that anyone could use to set up on their shell. Hurley hopes to keep costs down so it’s affordable to anyone who could use it and plans to return any profit to his own club.

Hurley has watched athletes who have arm, hand, or shoulder issues do indoor rowing for years. A tool like this, he thought, could help make on-water rowing accessible to them.

“That’s part of the fun with the adaptive rowing is it does make you think, and it does make you do things differently,” Hurley said. “You really need to focus on each person.”

Hurley hopes to have some kits ready this spring and has already contacted FISA to discuss certification. Even if it doesn’t receive FISA approval, he won’t sweat it.

“This is something the average rower could use,” he said.