Rowing a single well takes a decent amount of skill but the best rowers make it look easy. Most of them have spent hundreds of hours in the single perfecting their skills and, in the process, they also get extremely comfortable in the boat. That's not exactly a skill that can be taught; mostly it takes time, but there are some ways to speed up that process.
So instead of talking about ways to improve the catch, or clean up the finish or be more powerful on the drive, I want to encourage everyone to learn to play around in the boat, get out of your comfort zone or at least work to expand that zone. The more relaxed you are, the more comfortable you can be, the better you're going to row.
If you haven't ever flipped the boat, you should. That's the worst that's going to happen so get it over with and learn that it's not such a big deal. Can you get back in? Can you climb up on top and swim the boat to shore? Stay in the water and push the boat to shore? We like to say there are two kinds of rowers: those who have flipped and those who will. You should know what to do when the inevitable happens and that alone should help you feel more comfortable in the boat.
Sunny spring break (submitted by Melissa Marlin)
One skill I find lacking among many single scullers is the ability to sit comfortably at the catch with the blades squared and buried. So many people tighten up, wobble from side to side, fight the boat and generally just don't like being there. At a minimum, you should be comfortable sitting at any position in the boat with the blades squared and buried.
Once you get comfortable sitting there, try gently bobbing your oars up and down - first with both hands together then alternate hands so the boat rocks a little form side to side. If you're relaxed, your body will lean the opposite direction from where the boat is leaning so the boat won't get precariously off keel. If you're tight and stiff, your body will go where the hands go and if you're not careful the boat will roll.
Learn from watching kids. They're not afraid of getting wet, and often want to get in the water on a hot day. Once they figure out how to get back in the boat, they want to learn how to stand up in the boat, then to stand on one oar and raise both hands in the air. They're playing! Kids want to make rowing fun while too often adults make it work.
Here are some ways I suggest you play in the boat with the ultimate goal of becoming more one with the boat. A relaxed rower is so often a more efficient rower.
See how loosely you can hold your hands on the oars, both on the drive and the recovery. Start by pointing your fingers to the stern on the recovery, then try to just let your hands hover over the handles on the recovery. On the drive, work to get out on the fingers and see how gently you can hold the handle.
Push one oar away from you on the recovery, literally letting go but putting the hands back on before the roll up. Try this with each hand and then see if you can push both oars away and clap your hands or touch your nose or just hover them above the handles before puting your hands back on in time for the catch.
Now that is feet out rowing (submitted by Simone Azure )
Rock the boat from side to side. Push the port oar handle down to the gunnel, allowing the starboard oar handle to rise up, then do the reverse.
If you don't know how to back the boat, learn to do it well. I promise you it is a skill that will come in very handy some day. Can you get good enough to have a backing race?
Let one blade and then the other float through on the drive while you let go of the oar. Your hand can hover over the oar but try not to touch. Do this one at a time and then try with both oars.
Learn how to take your jacket/shirt/top off while in the boat.
On-land boat balancing
Throw a floating object in the water and then maneuver the boat to where you can pick it up.
Row as quietly as you can. I'm not so much referring to the sound of the blades skimming on the water on the recovery but more about getting quiet catches and finishes. Can you continue to row quietly as you add power?
Row in circles, first one way and then the other. Now back in circles.
Here are some more ideas for Useless Boat Tricks (That Are Fun To Do Anyway) if you need more inspiration.
Have fun playing!
Pro level (submitted by Heather Brooks)