The sport of rowing is seeing a giant growth in membership from women over the age of 40. Why? What is it about mid-life that makes a traditional water sport so attractive?

Let me start by telling a story.

Rebecca Caroe Rower and Podcaster

Rebecca Caroe rows for North Shore in New Zealand. Photograph by Stephen Robinson

I have been privileged to meet an amazing group of women through rowing. Women who wouldn’t describe themselves as “sporty”; women who have suffered loss; women who have families and those who do not; women with life partners and women who are single; and of course, women in menopause and beyond.

What we all have in common is a shared purpose — to conquer the challenge of learning a new skill — the sport of rowing.

And we succeed because we do it together.

Rowing is a really challenging sport to learn as an adult. Nobody can “just row” just like nobody can just ride a bicycle.

When you first get into a boat it feels unstable — like you’re sitting on a pencil on the water that’s about to tip over and dunk you in the water. And so you have to learn how to balance the boat; how to handle the oars — which are 3 meters long — and also how to propel yourself BACKWARDS around a river or lake.

Learning to row is a bit like rubbing your head and patting your tummy at the same time.

So what’s the attraction?

When we are coming into menopause, many women feel challenged by weight gain, by a need for ‘me-time’ and by a desire for distractions from the physical symptoms we experience.

Finding a like-minded group of friends who are all “in the same boat” [pun intended] is a great way to feel you’re in charge of your situation, of your body and mind, while also making new friends and learning a new skill.

Unique among team sports, rowers have a deep bond with their crew mates. It’s more than you felt while on the high school hockey or netball team or during summer camp with the Girl Guides.

Somehow, rowing makes friends for life. If you read the rowing Reddit threads or books like The Boys in the Boat, you realise the intensity of the crew unity.

Not all team sports are created equal

When you are on a rowing team, the teamwork is very powerful. Nobody gets left behind in the boat. We all experience set-backs in our learning. Some days you just can’t do something and others you can, but we share the pain and the elation together.

The way the boat moves forward is due to every single person in the crew working together. And that mutual endeavour brings rewards — like the first time you can balance the boat, or the feeling when you do a power 10 and the boat races forwards and you can feel the speed. Trust me, it’s amazing.

Mixed coed

Why you should try rowing

So here are ten reasons why rowing is the ultimate team sport that builds confidence and companionship through collaboration and shared endeavour (and what makes it ideal for women in menopause).

  1. While you’re all in the same boat, we all go the same speed — you can’t tell if you are going “slower” or “faster” than others.
  2. You can row solo or be social in a crew as a team.
  3. Rowing is a great stress buster — work hard, sweat and pump out some kilometres.
  4. Weight loss through rowing is easy as it’s whole-body exercise.
  5. It’s a sport for life — from age 10 till whenever — as long as you can stand up and sit down unassisted, you can probably row.
  6. Whatever the weather you can get outside into some of the really beautiful rivers and lakes in the world full of animal life.
  7. Rowing builds great bodies — it’s a pushing sport building leg and back strength — you are FIT.
  8. Teamwork is number one (did I say that already?)
  9. Timing is everything — if you want to be the team hero you have to combine with the others. Standing out and doing it differently will lose you the race.
  10. Every time you see a nice, calm, flat piece of water you imagine what it would be like to row on.

Go find yourself a learn-to-row tryout day. Nearly every country in the world has a national federation where you can find a club near you. Here are some links.

Rebecca Caroe is the founder of Faster Masters Rowing training programs and the Rowing Chat podcast network. Picture of Rebecca Caroe ©Stephen Robinson Photography; the other two photos are ©Rowing Celebration and were taken at the World Masters Games 2017. One is a mixed coxed four and the other is a women’s coxless four.