Pete Cipollone coxing

Pete Cipollone Shares How to Get a Feel for the Boat

Boat feel is critical for choosing the right technical calls to make your crew go faster. Here Olympic gold medal coxswain Pete Cipollone shares what worked well for him.

Do you have any tips to help me get a real feel for the boat? I’ve been coxing for about a year and a half now and i really want to be able to feel whats wrong and how to fix it… is there anything i can do to make it easier or any tips you have? thanks
– Sophie

Sophie, this is a great question, since boat feel is so critical for choosing the right technical calls to make your crew go faster. Let me suggest a few things that worked well for me and should help you.

The first and most important thing is to become part of the hull. That means bracing yourself in so that you can physically feel every little movement or deviation that the boat makes. In an eight, if you push your feet against the coxswain’s footboard and wedge your butt up against the back of the seat, this is a good start. If the weather’s warm, cox barefoot so you really feel the acceleration and deceleration (check) in your feet. Once you have perfected “the wedge,” you can then brace your arms against the gunwales. If you do this right, you should be able to picture yourself such that if a giant hand picked up your boat and turned it upside down, you would be so connected to it that you would not fall out. Now you are in touch with the hull.

From this connection, you should be able to feel the surge of the drive, the free running of the hull on the recovery, and a smooth pickup at the front end. That last item is probably the most important part of the stroke. If a crew can take the catch while the boat is running without causing check, this is a significant competitive advantage. Now that you are braced, you should be able to feel this in your feet and hands. Make calls to the whole crew until the catch feels like it is the last part of the recovery rather than the beginning of the drive. You want those blades covered before the drive begins, and the catch should feel light on your feet, not heavy.

'If you can understand the mechanical effect of the calls you and your coach make, then you will eventually know what a good change feels like and also what calls to make based on how the stroke rhythm feels' - Pete Cipollone Click to Tweet
The second thing I would suggest is to really feel what the hull does when the coach calls for a change, and the third is to observe those same changes whenever you ride in the launch with the coach. If you can understand the mechanical effect of the calls you and your coach make, then you will eventually know what a good change feels like and also what calls to make based on how the stroke rhythm feels and whether or not you are getting jerked around.

To sum it up, first, wedge yourself in so that every little movement of the hull translates into something you can feel in some part of your body (mostly feet, back/butt and hands). Secondly, try to feel the before and after of every call from you or the coach, and third, observe from the outside and ask yourself, “How should that change feel and where would I feel it?”

– Pete Cipollone

Enjoy reading this? Read the full collection of coxswain tips.

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Pete Cipollone
Pete Cipollone was a coxswain for the US National Team from 1997-2004. He joined the team after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, and his career highlights include gold medal wins in the M8+ at the 1997, 1998, and 1999 World Rowing Championships, as well as a gold medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics.

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