Queens’ Ergs: Rowing, but not as we know it

Paul Hyland 20 November 2015

Rowing is suffering. It is being able to wake up before the sun rises and to put yourself through physical hell before most of your housemates are out of bed. It is repeating the same action until your technique is perfect and you have the strength to keep on repeating. Every day.

And a large part of this physical punishment is exacted using the innocent-looking erg machine.

Any rower will tell you that this is by far the most challenging part of their training – not only is it physically exhausting, it is also mind-numbingly boring. The only thing worse than sitting in a boat rowing down the Cam, is sitting in a pretend boat staring at the white walls of the gym while your arms fall off.

So making a competition out of this incredibly boring aspect of a rowers training seems optimistic to say the least.

But Queens’ Ergs is exactly that. A competitive race, using erg machines. And somehow, they’ve made it quite entertaining.

Maybe it’s some sadistic pleasure we get from seeing people pushed to their physical limit. Or maybe it’s the overwhelmingly competitive atmosphere created by having so many rowers in a relatively confined space. Either way, Queen’s Boat Club have created a uniquely interesting event.

You only have to look at the results to see what kind of performance such an atmosphere is conducive to – one of the members of Caius’ M1 crew put in a time of 1:26, only 5 seconds off the Lightweight World Record over 500m. And Newnham W1, the fastest women’s crew, averaged a time only ten seconds slower than the Lightweight World Record. To say that the rowers involved in Queens’ Ergs are all novices, these are staggeringly good times.

So what place does the competition take in the rowing calendar? It doesn’t quite have the same prestige as Bumps but it is the first real taste of competition that novices will have.

Josh Watts, former Lower Boats’ Captain of Jesus Boat Club, believes that Queens’ Ergs is crucial for the development of a boat crew: ‘It’s the first time that you’re really representing your club. You wear face paint, you shout each other on. It’s quite a good bonding experience and a way to introduce yourself to the fierce rivalries between the clubs’.

Watts was full of admiration for ‘QErgs’ – an event he took part in two years ago – but was also clear about the hard work that comes after. ‘The real work comes after, in the build-up to Fairbairn’s and Bumps. There’s a lot of work that goes into molding a crew that can compete over a longer distance’.

Those words are the ones that would fill me with dread if were a novice. This is only the beginning.