Learning to row

There’s no better time to start.

Growing up as a Midwestern kid from the suburbs, I didn’t know much about the outdoors. Being from Ohio, we didn’t camp a lot. Rivers were a bit foreign to our family of six. Don’t get me wrong, we fished, swam and rode bikes until the streetlights came on but there’s nothing in that equation that prepared me for navigating moving water.

There’s an old saying that states you’re only as good as the company you keep. Almost a decade ago I found new people to surround myself with at Trout Unlimited. The knowledge and backgrounds of these people really impressed me. I started picking their brains every chance I got.

It worked.

My first river trip was eight years ago on the Main Salmon river in central Idaho. My previous life as a professional sports photographer for various NFL, NBA and MLB teams certainly did not prepare me for this trip of a lifetime. I was fortunate and I was well aware of it.

Learning to row and eat on the main Salmon river.

About a quarter of the way through our seven-day trip down one of the most spectacular rivers in the western United States, I was asking so many questions about river rafting that they finally handed me the oars. With the boat spinning in circles, I managed to push and pull us several hundred yards downstream before my patient co-worker took the oars and explained the best techniques for safe passage down the river.

There’s no better time than now and the more you ask the more you’ll learn. I’m not talking about asking Google. I’m talking about asking real, live human beings.

That trip changed me. I came back more curious about rivers, boats and navigation. What would it take to get our family into a boat? Would it be too difficult with two little children? How do I learn how to row without risking the safety of our family?

The author’s wife Molly learning on the Upper Colorado River.

Fast forward a year and a half later and we had managed to save up for a bare bones raft from our local dealer. Our first trip down the upper Colorado river would most likely be classified as a complete junk show. An hour into the 6-mile float and I high centered on a rock causing us to all come to a screeching halt in fast moving water. With kids crying I hopped out to stand chest deep in the frigid river to push us off. Not seconds later after getting us unstuck I managed to swing the heavy 10-foot oar around only to have it connect with one of my kid’s heads. Our big blue boat was filled with tears and I was second-guessing boat ownership.

Eventually, we made it to our destination mostly unharmed and after that fateful trip we’ve gone on to do some of the most outstanding multi-day river trips I could have ever imagined.

The Main Salmon river in central Idaho.

Since then, I’ve had many people ask me how in the world they could learn how to row and navigate rivers themselves. I typically answer with an invitation to come try it out with me. There’s no better time than now and the more you ask the more you’ll learn. I’m not talking about asking Google. I’m talking about asking real, live human beings.

I recognize the fortunate circumstances that gave me the ability to provide my family some of the greatest experiences of their lives and will stop at nothing to repay that gratitude to others.

I’ll leave with a question here. Where did you learn to row and who did you learn from?

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