There’s no shortage of pastimes to be had on the East End during the summer, and there’s no shortage of people looking to get or stay in shape. A newly formed club for rowing in Sag Harbor aims to meet both needs head-on, while getting members outside the confines of the gym.
Though it officially launched May 5, founding member Lee Oldak said plans for Sag Harbor Community Rowing were hatched back in November. Though he described himself as rowing “occasionally and recreationally,” his enthusiasm proved infectious. Oldak seized the initiative, feeling the time was right for rowers to have a proper meeting place. “We thought before the waterfront disappears, we should do it now,” he said.
One early supporter was volunteer coach Robert Montgomery, a longtime rower with more than 40 years of experience accrued from his time with the University of California, Santa Clara’s crew team, and with the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia. When he first met Oldak and mentioned he was an avid rower, Oldak became excited. Montgomery admired Oldak’s ambition and his willingness to tackle the necessary tasks involved in running the club.
“I’m stunned at his ability to come up with boats,” said Montgomery, who lives in Sag Harbor. “He is the driving force here.” Meanwhile, his own enthusiasm is unabated: “It’s good to be back in the boats. I believe there was a character in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ who said, ‘There’s nothing better in life than messing around in boats.’”
Following discussions with Sag Harbor Village Mayor Gregory Ferraris, the club was granted a spot in April at Cove Park off Redwood Road. Awaiting the experienced and novices alike are racks of special boats called shells and picturesque views of the harbor. A shallow area allows rowers to put in and set up with relative ease.
The club, organized as a non-profit, had shells donated from a variety of sources. One-person shells were donated by the International Recreational and Open Water Rowing Association. A four-person shell, called a quad, was donated by Fred and Bettina Stelle. The quad will be named after Bettina’s father, Thomas Keller, president of the international rowing organization Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron, or FISA, from 1958 until his death in 1989. Another quad, plus an eight-person shell and a power boat for rowing coaches, came courtesy of East End Rowing. The clubs will cross-promote by rowing the shells from Riverhead to Sag Harbor on Peconic Bay.
The one-person shells that most rowers use have special seats mounted on rails, with Velcro loops attached to plates to hold the feet. This allows the rower to slide forward and backward with each half of the stroke, transferring the momentum to the oars to give each stroke greater power. To ensure that they don’t fall out, the oars are locked and held in place by stoppers attached below each oar’s handle.
Though rowing comes more naturally to some than others, the setting and atmosphere lets everyone enjoy themselves at their own pace in a safe environment, so newcomers have nothing to fear. First-time rower Suzanne Nicoletti of East Hampton said her maiden voyage in a rowing shell was well worth it. “It was incredibly peaceful, just gliding on the water and being outside here,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”
There are orientations prior to paddling out, and Oldak wants everyone to be confident enough to paddle out solo. But he stressed that each rower will have certain responsibilities, including setting up his or her own shell, and members should be mature and able to handle the challenge. “We’re not holding people’s hands,” he said. “It’s not a concierge service. We will help you, but we will not do everything for you.”
Oldak is particularly interested in involving youth in the club in the hopes of forming a club team that would compete with other club teams, as well as varsity teams. “We’re targeting high school kids in particular,” said Oldak, who is also commodore of the Breakwater Yacht Club and the owner of Amagansett Beach & Bicycle Co. “But the rowers are coming out of the woodwork. Everyone’s encouraging everyone else.”
Membership is currently at 10 “and growing,” said Oldak. A membership through November 1 for adults (18 and over) costs $250. Children age 10 through 17 can join at $125, and anyone interested in giving it a try can take a $50 introductory private lesson (high school students can take one for $25).
Interested parties can get more information at rowsagharbor.org.