It all happened all too quickly. In 30 minutes, I have signed up and already received my confirmation email. Payment was made too. There was no turning back now. I was on my way to attend my first rowing class only few days away.

I was just looking for a summer activity. Weather is nice for a while, and it’s helpful to have something to do outside. People in Vancouver are mostly outdoorsy and do lots of activities. I suspect it’s to counter all the times you’re stuck inside avoiding the rain. So, they ask you: what are you doing this weekend? Or, this long weekend? Or, this summer?

I’m very indoorsy. (yes, I see indoorsy is underlined with that red squiggly line as I’m typing this, but I’m using it as a word anyway. Outdoorsy is a word, why not the opposite). I’m very indoorsy, but when I try answers like: I read a book, I usually got looks of bewilderment, laughs of oh-that’s-funny-but-seriously, and genuine wondering on where was the camping trip where I read that book. Not often do I get an interest of which book it was.

To prepare for Monday small talks, I would need better answer than simply the truth. I tried several tactics of avoiding the question. “not much, you?” and similar ideas, but they can only work so many times. This summer, maybe I could do one big activity that provide me with endless small talk.

That wasn’t the only reason. When the rowing class met for the first class, we sat down for an introduction and a quick chat. I was asked to talk about who I am and explain why I’m participating, and I told the truth. “I’m looking to do something outside my comfort zone, and as a computer programmer, here’s my comfort zone, and here’s rowing”. There was a short silence as I moved my hands from one far end of the table to the other illustrating the distance to everyone’s laughs.

I thought I could try bouldering. I have a coworker who tried bouldering and said it was pretty cool. He recommended a place too. Bouldering fits well because I could pick my own schedule and go on my own pace. It wouldn’t cost much since I hardly need any gear.

Bouldering was also where the idea for an outside-my-comfort-zone activity came from. I read this article about how the author used rock climbing to help overcome her fear of failure. It was a really promising idea; do something you’re terrible at, be terrible at it for many times over, get better after many tries and get conformable with failure.

However, the idea for bouldering came around March. April, May and June came and went, and I haven’t bouldered done any bouldering. It seemed like my fear of commitment was getting in the way of overcoming my fear of failure. So, when my coworker Carole mentioned the Vancouver Rowing Club where she’s been rowing for few years now as she told me about the latest competition she’s been to, I asked her about those rowing lessons she told me about before. She explained how it works and, unknowingly, gave me two good reasons to sign up. The lessons are at a convenient time; right after work. Also, she’s coaching, which means there would be a familiar face to ease my transition out of the comfort zone.

Few weeks went by after I asked Carole, and I almost forgot about the class. One day, she asked me: are you signing up for July’s class, I think we have one last spot open. It seemed like I was gonna miss the class, and I was put on the spot when she asked me. 30 minutes later, I signed up and 30 minutes afterwards I was in quiet panic wondering what have I done.

Sometimes, you want to do something, and you know it could be good for you. However, the more you think about it, the more likely you are to find reasons to get out of it. You think to yourself: We’re going into the water? These excuses usually cover for other things that aren’t related. It’s not like I’m actually worried about getting into the water.

One thing that these excuses cover for is probably meeting a new group of strangers. Yes, I’ve moved to a new city, but I’m still not quite comfortable meeting new strangers. As a naturally worrying person, I think up all the uncomfortable scenarios that could and could not happen. This, inevitably, makes it easy to back out of new meetings.

Another is that rowing is a team sport. This turned out to be truer than I thought. Some team sports let the skill of one member carry the less-skilled members. Football (whether soccer or American football) is like that. Rowing is a team sport where the lack of skill of one member can slow down the rest of the team.

Rowing can seem complicated, and it is at the start when you need to learn a new vocabulary and techniques. You need learn new movements for legs, arms, back and the rest of your body, and learn it all at once. This seems like the complicated part, but it’s not. It’s syncing up with the rest of the team that is complicated. Being in harmony with the rest of the team is what rowing really is.

The main idea is that the push of one paddle in the water can push the boat, say, 5 meters. However, the push of two paddles going in sync doesn’t push the boat 10 meters, but 20. It’s one of those times where the total is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s not exactly like how I describe it, this is just a metaphor to explain what I’ve felt rowing in the water. But I can say, you can easily feel the difference between the push when we’re in sync and when we weren’t.

Being a team player is an essential trait at work, and generally any group activity. It includes many skills like communication, being good at what you do, being nice to other people, and many others. It’s easy to think that you need to be a good team player to be good at rowing. I would disagree. Being good at rowing needs a good solider. You need, not only, to follow orders, but completely dissolve within the team. You see those shows in Olympics opening ceremonies where a crowd of performers move in sync to the point where you can’t tell them apart. That’s being a solider. That’s being on a rowing team.

It’s not enough to be good at what you do, you need to be as good as your teammates. Not in the way of competing to be better, but in the way of harmony. If you’re paddling too fast or pushing too hard than your teammate, you’re as much to blame as they are. You need to follow the rhythm of the person in front of you regardless of how fast they’re going, simply because they can’t see you.

Being a solider isn’t exactly something I’m good at. I have opinions and good reasons for those opinions. You shout a command at me, I’ll stop you for a moment that will last 15 minutes to explain to you why you’re wrong and what we should be doing instead.

Truly, I’m not being a pain, I honestly have good reasons. However, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to shut up.

Let me go off on a tangent for a moment. Seeing something you strongly think and feel is wrong, and staying quiet doesn’t feel right. But speaking up isn’t the same as correcting a wrong. Sometimes people are more resistant to corrections when you speak up in a group. Most of the time, trying to convince them of what’s correct will yield the opposite result when they’re attached to their view. It doesn’t matter if you provide them with good reasons. Reasons are just excuses for their existing views and actions. Changing their minds is more about letting them form a new view to replace their old one. To help them form new views, you need to better understand their existing ones, and to do that, you need to listen more, and maybe in the process you can learn a thing or two.

That’s why it’s harder for me to shut up, and harder to be a good solider. Maybe it was easier to be a solider when rowing because it’s a physical activity where you can turn off your brain and let your body follow orders.

Training was twice a week for 90 minutes each. It lasted 4 weeks. We spent some time in the beginning just learning how to carry the boat, handle the equipment, and generally not drown. The milestone we were working towards was the regatta at the end of the month. All classes would get together and compete against each other. It’s all in good fun, but is taken very seriously.

Some of the training activities was just about skills to be demonstrated during the regatta. But the fun part was rowing. For three weeks, it was no fun. Whenever we row, it’s just for minute, then we mess up so much that we must stop. It was long and frustrating, but when we reached that last five minutes in the session before last, it was all worth it. We could finally sync up enough to experience that big push of four paddles in the water going in the same moment. It’s a great feeling.

The view from down in the water is something else. Just sitting on top of the water is enjoyable. However, you don’t notice much of that when rowing, you’re all consumed into watching the person in front of you and following their every movement. Instead, you experience speed. There’s a feeling of yeah, it’s picking up now. Then it’s a bit of okay, that’s fast. Afterwards, you all get into a rhythm and you stop ordering your muscles. Instead, your body takes over and you just row. It’s few minutes of harmony before you finally left your head up and notice how far you’ve travelled.

It was more of that last five minutes in our last training session. Somehow it didn’t seem long enough. The month seemed like a very long setup for a joke that, at points, seems pointless and meandering only to land on the best punchline and justify its every moment.

The regatta was very enjoyable. We were first to perform which was better. We got to perform quickly, then sit and enjoy the July sun, watching other teams perform and race for the rest of the day. To end on a high note, we won. Quite an accomplishment given that there’s only one other team in our category. But we’re not gonna focus too much on that. A win is a win.

Do I recommend rowing? I recommend trying out new activities. I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone occasionally. I’m aware that I’m saying this from the depth on my comfort zone, but I’m recommending stepping out, not leaving it entirely.

Me at the rowing deck
In my first lesson, this is as close as I came to the water