Esmerelda, Ben Howard

Everyone has that one song they go to for a reflection of their innermost feelings.

Mine is Esmerelda by Ben Howard, the video in particular.

The waves unrolling back in reverse is what gets me every time. It may be for the symbolic value of rolling back time and rediscovering today’s desires by the method of review.

The moving images are taken in the winter, the British winter many complain of. As a surfer, Ben Howard is staring at the swells as he would have done at any other season, reflecting on the conditions, the possibilities. The weather is not a hindrance, but an opportunity for assessment. A million components pulled together; I could ride that wave, I know I can, I can do it this way or that way. Maybe I will come back to it, maybe I will sit it out, watch it and leave it to perform before my very eyes.

The solitary imagery of Howard looking out from the cliff’s edge over the treacherous weather, is a message of renewal. Emerged from the knowledge that majestic moments happen in the most apparent challenging conditions. Our method and approach is the liberating experience emerging from what is on offer. A source and direction of energy that pulls the surfer to float on the surface is also defined by the surfer’s point of letting go and diving into the water when conditions become too much. These are not polarised experiences of bad or good, of success or failure, but of a journey of becoming one with nature, embracing it and re-establishing our relationship with it as our home.

Theorists have made the case for connecting with our histories in our pursue of conserving our natural habitat. Mythologies of Homer’s Odysseus seeking his Ithaca, and the realism of Caribbean slaves fishing out in the open waters on Atlantic Ocean’s edge have required an intertwined interdependent relationship with nature and its elements. The thousands of Syrian refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea escaping conflict. The skill of ‘reading’ nature and floating decisions under different communication needs, on the nexus with the changing elements, is part of the human condition that can not be aborted.

There are thousands of individual journeys to Ithaca, Caribbean fishermen and surfers connecting with nature in that way. The sea is a pool for everyone to explore their search for a home.

Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

Rowing along…

Boat races, the heads and the regattas...

Being in a boat, moving at a speed powered by your own movement and force, is a feeling unlike any other.

If you are not convinced, try hiring a boat on a lake, enjoy the sensations it brings about.

The water has calming qualities. It reflects all there is and for a rower it is the mirror of the investment made in training, on land or water. Rowing is the ultimate competition with oneself.

The Boat Races, River Thames, UK 2018
Docklands Head 2017, East London, UK

University rowing crews, whilst studying, instead of joining their peers at the pub, they opt in for the sound of the alarm at 5am, getting in their boats in all weather, come rain or freezing conditions. Or the bravery of the learners turning up at clubs across the country, strengthening mentally and physically so they can lift their boats, catch up with more experienced crews, fine-tune techniques that didn’t even know existed, and balancing this, with work and adult life commitments. Or the juniors, set up in a single scull, a fine balancing act on a tiny boat sliding away at the gentle stroke, at a rate, self maneuvering in windy, and tide against weather conditions. Or the adult master sculler, competing well past their forties, unlike competitors in any other sport.

Crews during an outing in the port of Pireaus, Athens, Greece 2017

Scullers opposite Greenwich, London 2015

Searching out for the ultimate experience visit a rowing competition near you. There are events held on the river, on the coast, at the docks, or a marina, in boats of all sizes. Note the community spirit and peer support.

I am a four year old rower. That’s a baby by competitive standards, yet having transfered from gymnastics, a new lease of sporting life has rolled out in front of me when every other athlete I know, let it be from NBA or Rugby, retired by the time they reached the third decade of their life.I am not simply sharing my insights of the rowing sport, but a small sample of experiences I gained in my infant years, shown through the photos here taken from a range of races, club houses and events.

Head of the Charles Regatta, Boston, USA 2015

Royal Henley Regatta, UK 2015
Blisters and all, being a rower means you have a home at a boat house on any corner of the earth.

I welcome you to some experiences, many call home.