row2k Features
It All Began with a Flip
March 15, 2002
Aquil Abdullah

Perfect Balance, by Aquil Abdullah
Buy Aquil's book
It's funny how little you think about flipping once you've been sculling for a while, but much like an Albatross (or the infamous Dodo Bird), we all have those stories of less than graceful moments on the water. My story is no different from the rest, except that the cause for my first flip wasn't due to a lack of skill, although many of the flips that followed were the result of my incompetence as a sculler. No, my first flip was due to equipment breakage, an oarlock to be more specific.

The year was 1994, and I was about to partake in my first race in the single. My college coach at the time, John Devlin, had been nice enough to let me row his single during the long summer months as a distraction from my more nefarious activities. I had rowed in a quad the summer before so I had a feel for sculling. I spent a week or so in a trainer and then I went straight to a racing shell, albeit a retired racing shell. Nonetheless, I spent many hours milling around the Potomac River, going in the wrong direction, looking like a toddler taking his first steps, but by the fall I thought I was moving the boat pretty well, and decided to race in the novice single at The Head of the Potomac.

Since the Eight raced before the single, my coach had no qualms about letting me row the single. He saw it as a good way to tire me out and keep me out of trouble after the races. So the week before the race I was doing double sessions, but it wasn't stressful, because school had just started.

The day of the race I was "feeling the flow" and doing the "bull dance." The eight race hadn't gone as well as we had hoped, but all in all we weren't too disappointed. In the afternoon, I made the half mile walk from Thompson's Boat Center to the Potomac Boat Club. There I prepared to launch for my first race as a single sculler. I was calm, I was focused, I was on a mission to win the ALL-TIME WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OF NOVICE SINGLE SCULLERS, at least that was what I was thinking in my mind.

The time came and I launched the boat. I took a couple of strokes from the dock and placed my feet into the shoes. I checked the oarlocks, checked my stroke coach, and took a deep breath. My warm-up was pretty uneventful, there was nothing to give me a sign that my starboard oarlock was ready to snap. There was no noise to let me know that I would not be finishing my first race. There was only me splashing about as I prepared to face my competitors.

I approached the starting line feeling good. "Mr. Abdullah, you're on," was the last thing I heard. Two strokes latter, my starboard oar was in the water and I was trying to balance the boat with one oar. A more experienced sculler might have been able to stay right side up until help arrived, but I was only a novice. My boat began to flip to port side, slowly at first as I tried to maintain balance, and then all at once "SPLASH!!!"

That was it, I was in the drink. The judges came to fish me out, laughing at me once they saw that I was OK, and then saying that they had never seen anything quite like that. My ego bruised and my coach's boat broken, I proceeded dry myself off with a towel, and shake my head. I hadn't even heard the oarlock snap. What would I tell my coach about his boat? How was I going to live this down? That's what I was thinking. As time went on, people stopped talking about the flip. I too soon forgot about the whole thing, as I went back to sweep full time. In the end, it was a good experience, because it really made me appreciate the importance of being right side up.
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