This year rowing centre Berlagebrug organizes the Amsterdam Light-festival tour for the fifth time. Every edition more than 1000 rowers have participated. TopRow spoke with one of the participants, Marie-Jeanne Diederen (51), from the Maastricht Watersport Club (MWC).
How did you become familiar with the Light-festival tour?
“I only started rowing five years ago because of my son who really enjoyed it. Not long after I started, this trip was offered via MWC ‘s Touring Activities Committee. I just got my license, so it was super exciting to suddenly row on the narrow Amsterdam canals. Our rowing location on the Maas gives plenty of challenges with the current, but it is a completely different dynamic. I thought it was a fantastic experience and it made such a big impression that I returned every year since. Meanwhile, I organize it myself within the club.”
How do you organize the trip?
“Partly because we obviously have to come from far away, we really make a trip out of it. We leave early in the morning so that we can be in Amsterdam at noon. Then they split up into groups for different activities. Especially for us it starts half an hour earlier than normal, so we can still eat together before we go back to Maastricht afterwards. The first time I went, we were with 20 people.
Now the number increased to 40, this is the limit though. It has been fully booked within half an hour registration was opened. This year we even had 70 applicants. This is enormous on a membership number of 400 – of which 100 are active. People are very enthusiastic about it and recommend the trip to others. Even now we had something between ten to twelve beginners. I share the boats and mix everything together. Young and old. From race rowers, to beginners and other enthusiastic members.”
How did the trip this year compared to previous times?
“It is always a bit different every year. The first time remains the best, because of the combination of the artworks and the fact that it was new and exciting. Last year’s edition wasn’t; it came across as chaotic. This edition, the artworks were significantly more beautiful again. One of the highlights were twenty enlarged illuminated fluffs that dangled above the canal. I also liked the ‘Stars of Van Gogh’. This involved an artificial version of the starry sky that Vincent van Gogh once painted for the famous painting ‘The Starry Night’. The artists try to remind us that we no longer see such a thing – especially in a city like Amsterdam where the night air is permanently polluted.”
How does the collaboration with the Rowing Centre go?
“That went very well. Each boat is accompanied by a coxswain who knows the route, including the ins and outs of the artworks. It is also important that there is good manoeuvring, because it is quite busy on the water between the large tour boats. That always goes well. Of course, some are more enthusiastic than the other. For the first time, I was lucky enough to meet someone who pointed out the beautiful book called ‘The Boys in the Boat’. You have to have that luck. However I would recommend it to anyone. I now know friends from other clubs that also come every year.”
Toprow is expanding. This week we will start with the first lessons in New York City. American Mel Abler is responsible for the course and has recently visited our location in Amsterdam. What did she learn and what is she planning on doing in New York?
Mel (25) was born and raised in Wisconsin and got into rowing during her time in college. “Due to my small stature it was pretty clear I was only ever going to be a coxswain, until I found out about the lightweight category. That was when I started training to be able to achieve that new goal. When I moved to New York I never stopped”, she tells us enthusiastically over coffee in Amsterdam.
Part time job
Abler started as a part time rowing instructor with Row New York, a center not only for learn to row courses, but which also offers Junior and master rowing courses. Meanwhile she is completing her PHD in physics at Columbia university, which she skillfully juggles along side her coaching tasks. When Toprow took over the learn to row courses, they immediately found the perfect instructor in Abler.
“Toprow’s idea is that of teaching anyone and everyone how to row. That is something I agree with. The opportunities to start rowing in New York are very limited. There are very little good rowing stretches and the real estate is very expensive. Aside from college rowing, you can hardly ever get your start in rowing. There are no regular clubs like those on the banks of the Amstel.”
Abler points out that there are more ways to expand. “A lot of people have come in contact with rowing at college, so they will know about the sport. It has also become a popular exercise in the gym, mainly in sports like Crossfit. Crossfit uses the ergometers quite a lot and people doing this would very well like to try to do this in an actual boat.”
Over the past week Abler has shadowed some of the instructors in Amsterdam during
different classes. “I have joined an experienced crew in a trip down the Amstel, which was amazing. I also joined some novices in a row into the city, there are so much opportunities in Amsterdam. In America we mainly row sweep, but I’d love for more people to learn how to scull.”
Not only is the water way better for rowing, but also the materials they use. “Over in New York we do not have any boat types in between the big beginner boats and the racing style boats. Thankfully TopRow shipped two of their Lite Boats over, which is definitely going to help. But the amount of boats over here allows you to accommodate many more rowers. That is something we are not yet ready to do.”
She also noticed some differences in teaching. “In New York we are used to being on top of the technique. The instructors in Amsterdam let the rowers row more, really covering a distance. Maybe that has something to do with the approach. I understand that people come here to row and just move and socialize. I am used to be expected to teach constantly.”
In the novice crew Abler paid attention to their level combined with how long they had been rowing “I was actually afraid the level of the rowers here would be quite different than in New York, but thankfully that is not the case. The level was about the same. That does not mean it is not good to learn from each other and see where our differences lie.”
Abler will be starting with the first lessons this week. How this will take shape is something she does not know exactly yet. “The first entries for the novice course have been noted. But besides that, nothing is set in stone. In the winter rowing will not be able to continue due to the temperatures here. Otherwise we might rent a hall in Manhattan to erg together.”