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    The Way the Sculls Work

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    To clean up your blade work, you need a clear picture of what you want your blade to do. If you are new to sculling, practice this simple exercise to learn how the sculls work before you get into the boat. Coaches can demonstrate at the dock and ask novices to repeat.

    In The Sculler at Ease, legendary coach Frank Cunningham advises that “the best way to learn how the blade works is with your hand in the water. When your hand and arm are kept in line and rotated about their central axis, you have an oar of sorts; however, this oar feels everything that is done to it. It’s necessary, if you are to imitate the working of an oar properly, to get the elbow wet.”  

    Keep your thumb pointing up and slip your hand through the water. Mimic the pattern of the spoon during the stroke-enter. Bury, feel pressure in the cup of your hand, release, feather. Check out what’s happening to compare that to what you work on in the boat. Is your hand’s pattern the same as what you experience in the boat? Did you begin pressing your palm against the water before it was vertical? Did you start to turn your hand in the water before the release? 

    Practice how your “blade” prepares to enter the water, when the roll-up starts, and how deep you place it. When you remove the “blade” can it pass over a tennis ball or does it throw water? Your new mental image and the corrected motor pattern will translate to the oar handle through the loom to the blade.

    Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She specializes in training for masters rowers. Marlene’s coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides the program and the support you need to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

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