“Here, in this little Bay,

Full of tumultuous life and great repose,

Where, twice a day,

The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes," — Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore

To my left a sea otter surfaced with his head high above the water almost looking like he was standing on the bottom of the ocean. He gave me a curious stare, as though he was asking me why I had invaded his domain with this long white boat with poles sticking out its sides. I had begun to wonder the same thing as I rowed vigorously in hopes of keeping Katherine in my mirror. When her boat was no longer visible in the mirror, I turned my head to locate her and altered my course to follow her lead. Behind me a dolphin briefly made its presence known, the sleek glimmering body making a quick half circle above the tide and then submerging below an ocean’s wave.

The appeal of open water rowing over flat water rowing is the adventure. While flat water rowing begs speed and certain course, rowing on the ocean forces constant adaptation to the changing terrain. The oars must be held with a loose grip. When waves alter your course, sometimes only one oar is in the water during a stroke. A compass is necessary to keep the boat on course. Keeping the boat upright is of immediate concern and speed takes a back seat.

Although I had lived in Santa Cruz, California for eight years during the 1970s and 80s, I had never rowed on the Pacific Ocean until a couple of months ago. While visiting my old stomping grounds for a wedding, I had the opportunity to rent a boat from the Santa Cruz Rowing Club. I was introduced to Katherine by my good friend and running partner, Pat O’Grady. Katherine is an excellent rower with a great deal of open water experience. Her long legs and arms leveraged her oars to a victory in her last open water race. When I met her, she was training for a forty mile race out to Catalina Island. Mercifully, Katherine would stop from time to time to allow me to catch up to her. While I panted, she pointed out numerous landmarks one mile away on the shore.

We passed a large buoy that whistled as it rocked in the choppy water while eight or nine sea lions sunned themselves on the buoy deck. They barked as we passed, but made no attempt at moving their large bodies. A plethora of sea birds passed overhead and Katherine seemed to know all of them. After an hour of rowing, she told me it was time to turn around and head back to the yacht harbor.

Katherine taught me how to row with the waves and how to give a little extra at the crest and then glide while the wave does the work. Scull surfing is a thrill, but you need to use your oars properly in order not to capsize. We rowed one hour out to sea against the waves. It took less than a half hour to return. To date, I’d have to rate the ocean rowing as the top all-body workout of my life. Like a magnet it will draw me back for more.

It is frustrating to know that I had lived so long in a place that had such a gem of a workout and I never knew of its existence. Only now, as a visitor and not a resident, can I enjoy the thrill of the waves and the magnificence of the sea animals while rowing at full throttle.

The Santa Cruz Rowing Club had a 26-mile race across Monterey Bay from Santa Cruz to Monterey, shortly after the wedding. It is too bad that the timing of my trip could not have included this race. For now, the seed has been planted. One day I hope to return to Santa Cruz and attempt that race. The allure of the Pacific tides is powerful. The crossing of the bay is like the singing of the Sirens with their irresistible charm.

Budd Glassberg is a resident of Zionsville who is active in the local running community. Visit www.runz.com for reprints of all his columns. Email him at budd@runz.com.

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