Toprow New York takes off

Toprow New York takes off

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.”

Lite boat
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.”


rowing new york


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.”

TopRow New York

The American dream

The American dream

For some years there’s been a trend in Dutch rowing. Talented juniors are leaving to the United States to continue their rowing and studying there. Toprow spoke with three of them – all from different universities and different years. What attracts them, is there a difference in rowing culture and how do they combine University rowing with their ambitions to row for the Dutch Rowing Federation?

“I went to America for the experience. It was a big step to leave The Netherlands at such a young age and to build up a new life on the other side of the world”, says Maarten Hurkmans, who won a gold medal in the eight at the 2015 Junior World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. Then he went to the University of California. “That’s why I had my doubts. Niki van Sprang, a Dutch international and former rower of ‘Cal’, helped me a lot. He definitely gave me the last push.” Hurkmans says that an advantage of rowing is that you are part of a team, so getting to know people isn’t a problem. “I was placed in a house with some guys from the rowing team. I soon felt at home.”

Eastcoast – Westcoast
Gert Jan van Doorn, who was scouted by Cal’s biggest opponent at the Westcoast, the University of Washington, tells a similar story. “It is a combination of their interest in your rowing capabilities and the impression they make. I first went for a weekend to see what it was like. The sky is the limit then, you can even take your family, all paid by the university.” Especially California and Washington are doing everything in their power to recruit the most talented rowers.

Bart Roovers, who – at the age of 19 – almost rowed at the Olympic Games in the lightweight four, made a different choice and went to a university highly regarded for their study Physics. That meant rowing at a lower level. “For me, the most important thing is to have a good diploma when I finish university. But I also I had good feeling about the coach here at Pennsylvania. That’s paying off now, we’re winning races we didn’t win before.”

According to all there is a big difference in training mentality compared to the Netherlands. “Everything is way bigger and that is quite motivating”, says Roovers who used to train with a small team in Leiden. Van Doorn adds that another benefit of a large group is that there’s more competition. “We are continuously switching boats. Every training is a competition and you really have to push yourself. Physically you become hardened. In the Netherlands nobody trains at 5:30u in the morning, for us that’s daily routine. I never thought I would say this, but sometimes I even appreciate these sessions at sunrise.” This training regime pays off. All three of them improved their personal best time on the rowing machine with ten to fifteen seconds. Van Doorn even did it in one year.

Both Van Doorn and Roovers praise the professional way of coaching in America. Not only within rowing but also in their studies. “There’s always a mentor available who can help with planning lectures and exams and as an athlete you have priority when enrolling classes. And there’s a gigantic dining-hall where we can have dinner immediately after training sessions. That’s impossible in Holland. Our Dutch coach, Willem Jan de Widt, tries to do it in the run up to the World Under 23 Championships as well. But there is no team to help him”, says Roovers.

Hurkmans mentions another difference. “Everything we do is about the team, the collective. In the Netherlands coaching is much more individual focused with more focus on technique and with a lot more finesse. I’ve never heard a Dutch junior coach telling me that I had to push harder. They assume that you already push yourself to the limit and that you don’t need the encouragement. That might be a good thing but still I believe I got mentally stronger in the States.” The rower thinks that the combination of both styles is perfect. “Holland is the perfect place to improve your rowing technique and I’m not afraid to lose that when I’m back in the States. Our coach is very pragmatic, he loves it when my technique improved over the summer.”

The Netherlands
Despite the fact that the rowers only finish their American season end of June, they can still combine it with their ambitions to row for the Dutch Rowing Federation. Hurkmans is even selected for the national eight who is competing at the World Championships in Plovdiv. “I’m very lucky that the Dutch head coach supports my decision. He even came by this winter to see how we train in the States.” Roovers and Van Doorn were chosen for the U23-eight, despite the fact they had missed some selection races. “That was a windfall. I could have accepted if I wasn’t selected. I definitely want to grow to the international top, but I still have plenty of time left to go to the Olympics when I’m back from four yours of studying.  We’re still very young”, says van Doorn.  Rovers nods in agreement.

Robert Manson: ‘I hope my story will help others’

Robert Manson: ‘I hope my story will help others’

On Sunday 4th of August the Royal Dutch Rowing Federation (KNRB) participates, together with TopRow, for the second time with a boat at the Canal Pride in Amsterdam. In the run-up to this event, TopRow will publish a number of articles on this subject, starting with an interview with world record holder in the single scull, Robert Manson (28), who in 2014 openly proclaimed to be gay.

Your coming-out was just before the 2012 Olympic Games in London, in 2014 it was only massively picked up by the media. Was it a deliberate choice to do so?

“Yes, pretty much. I have written a story about my coming out and published it. That was picked up everywhere. Mainly I wanted to share my experiences about how limited and terrifying the thought of coming out felt.

I hoped that people could see the positive aspects of my story and that being gay – and in my case a top athlete at the same time – ultimately does not have to be a problem at all. I hoped that for others in such a situation my story could help. Frankly, I do not think many people have understood it like that, but I’m very glad that some people saw it that way. I have also received some very nice messages. “

Do you think that your coming-out has affected your rowing performance?

“I don’t think it has directly affected my performance. The only thing I can say is that it made me a lot happier outside rowing. I could finally be myself. “

Do you consider homosexuality being sufficiently accepted in the rowing world? And do you think that it is different in rowing than in other sports?

“Homosexuality is absolutely accepted in the rowing world. I have never had a bad experience, so I think that a fair sport like rowing is absolutely ahead. On the other hand, there are other sports that still have quite a way to go. The more people become open about their sexuality the more it is accepted and people feel comfortable to be open about who they are. It is a kind of domino effect. At the same time you must also be careful with this. It is of course a very personal issue and everyone has to decide for themselves if he or she is openly open to being gay or not.”

Do you believe that the World Rowing Federation FISA is doing enough in this area? There is already a Women’s Committee, but should they engage more in activities promoting diversity?

“If I am honest, I think the role of FISA as it is now is sufficient. I do not feel treated differently and that’s exactly how it should be. Ultimately, the athletes determine the culture that prevails and I believe we are creating a beautiful atmosphere in the rowing sport. It’s like one big family.”

What do you think of the initiative of the Royal Dutch Rowing Federation and TopRow to be participating during the Canal Pride?

“It is fantastic that the Dutch Rowing Federation commits to participating during the Pride. I attended the event in 2014 and it was a great combination of fun and showing solidarity to anyone struggling with his or her sexuality. It manifests that you are not judged on who you are.”

TopRow continues to expand – London 2018

TopRow continues to expand – London 2018

After announcing the establishment of a new rowing centre in New York City last year, TopRow has decided to expand into the UK market by opening a rowing centre in London. This will be a collaborative project with the prestigious London Rowing Club (LRC), which was founded in 1856 for the purpose of promoting rowing on the River Thames.

“It all happened pretty much by coincidence. In response to an article on our rowing centre in New York City, which had been published on the Dutch rowing website NLroei, someone sent me an email regarding business opportunities in London. – Rowing is a very popular sport in England and many people are looking for a gateway to rowing. We believe that we provide an easy access to the sport with our unique concept of offering private rowing lessons”, says Jasper Smink, owner of TopRow company, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam.

London Rowing Club
After a short time contact was established with London Rowing Club (LRC), which is situated on Putney Embankment, where the famous Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge starts. LRC is the second-oldest of non-academic active rowing clubs in London and one of the founders of the oldest regatta in the world, the Henley Royal Regatta. Smink says: “We are looking forward to work with LRC and I believe the Club’s board is interested in benefiting from our collaboration.”

The founder of TopRow, has successfully taken over ‘Roeicentrum Berlagebrug’ in Amsterdam four years ago and believes that he and his team of employees offer what it takes to make the London establishment a big success. “We’re going to hire spaces in the boathouse of LRC. Chances are high that LRC will benefit from the collaboration in the future since clients might choose for a membership with them – in Amsterdam we regularly see that people transfer to one of the clubs after they have picked up rowing with us.”

(G)rowing market
Smink is convinced that there is a growing market for rowing in London. “Rowing is already well-known in England – much more than in the Netherlands. Kids grow up with the sport during school. That makes a big difference. If you are looking for an easy access to this incredibly beautiful sport then the concept of enrolling for a certain number of rowing lessons should work perfectly – minimizing all your efforts to simply showing up for the lesson and enjoy the sport.”

More locations to come
TopRow’s ambition is to expand to other cities within Europe. “I think we have a great concept, which we can also implement elsewhere. Nevertheless, we will start by evaluating if our rowing centres in London and New York operate successfully. Key to maintaining standards and delivering high quality rowing lessons is training new instructors thoroughly. It’s important that we explain and show how we work at our headquarters in Amsterdam. We are even planning an exchange of our instructors so that our London instructors can do an internship in Amsterdam before they start in London.”

Opening end of July 2018
TopRow London will open its doors and offer lessons from the end of July 2018 onwards. People can row on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Lessons are offered for beginners and more experienced rowers. You can also book private lessons and row in a single to improve your rowing technique as much as possible. TopRow will use the safe and stable rowing shells of Liteboat. Safety is important at the Thames because it is, due to the tide and currents, one of the most challenging stretches of water. Therefore, TopRow makes safety a top priority. You can find more information on our website.

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