row2k Features
Rigger Tricks
Zip-Tied Heels
April 11, 2012
row2k hackers

Zipped and set to go

contributed by John FX Flynn, row2k

note: thanks once again to Byron Walthall of Charlotte Youth Rowing for reminding us that this is a Rowing Hack-worthy trick.

Heel ties might be one of the major safety measures in our sport, but the truth is, most folks don't think about them until race day. Here is a quick Rowing Hack that lots of folks use when the heel-ties are found wanting: zip-ties. Fast, cheap, and very unlikely to loosen up before racing is done, zip ties are the Hacker's solution to the mysteriously untied heel tie.

Now, "Heel ties" are two words that probably get uttered more than "Attention, Go" on most regatta days, and that by a factor of six (lanes) at a major championship, as each crew is either told to check their heel-ties, quietly wonders "are they checking heel-ties?" aloud, and--inevitably--mutters something well, unkind, about heel-ties and the one rower who didn't check them properly when they get held up by the referee checking them at the launch dock.

One day, Rowing Hacks will have to commission a study to determine how many elaborate race warm-ups have been scuttled and rushed through all for want of one simple shoelace--properly and rightly affixed for safety--but for now, all we have is the simple hack of a pocket full of 12 inch zip-ties.

We've seen zip ties used in any number of other ways in boathouses all over, from launch key keychains to "reach straws" to lengthen folks out into the catch, but the bar-none handiest use of the humble zip tie is the quick fix it provides when your crew is one heel-tie short of being able to launch for their race.

If fixing heel ties was a simple as re-tying a shoe-lace, it would not need a hack as elegant as the zip-tie, but very often the quick re-tie is stymied by old knots, shortened, broken heel strings, and--of course--the tight quarters of the shell itself (it is no fun to try and get a string threaded into the back of a foot-plate jammed all the way to the stern and fitted with size 14 shoes).

The zip tie, though, is quick and very easy; a practiced hacker can almost do it one handed. When your crew is standing in line to launch, nothing is a faster fix for a suddenly too-loose heel tie.

Of course, it would be great if all heel ties stayed, well, tied, but we all know that doesn't happen: knots can slip, or aren't retied after a simple foot stretcher repair, and sometimes heel strings break altogether--especially if the shell spends any time at all in salt water. You may even have an athlete or two who unties them every time the shell leaves the dock, the better perhaps to rush the slide. In the face of all that, the zip tie serves a simple, vital function, and does it well.

The zip tie hack is, we should note, a Race Day Fix only: we actually don't recommend using them on every shoe in your fleet as a regular practice. In the end, a well-tied heel string will stay tied after all, and then, the next time you have to work on that particular foot-stretcher, the original, tied heel-tie is both easier to loosen and more reusable than a zip tie--and possibly more forgiving on the shoe itself.

Do you have a better hack for heel-ties, or another clever way to use these zip ties I'm always carrying around on race day? Let us know in the comments below.

Have a great rowing hack for future inclusion here? Send it to us!

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


Log in to comment
10/24/2012  1:10:34 PM
A good story, a dark twist at the end , totally never heard of any rower using razor blades to cut their shoe ties. Kudos.

04/19/2012  1:19:00 PM
The sturdiness of zip ties is a dangerous illusion. As they are relatively rigid they can snap at any time. But for a one-shot they're OK. I use thin guage climbing cord which seems to last almost forever, are much stronger than shoe laces and hold knots much better.

04/12/2012  4:09:10 PM
I met a boatman on the dock after he had launched a crew of novice rowers. The boatman had something in his hand, I asked what it was and he showed me. "Razor blades," he says. They were new single-edged ones, still in the cardboard sheath. I ask the boatman what they're for and he said that he'd told his rowers before they launched that he had made sure all of their heel ties were tight for the officials, and that if the rowers wanted to, they could unclip them once they were out on the water. As the boatman handed out the razor blades, he explained that they could use the blade to cut the heel tie if they couldn't figure out how to unclip them. One rower who wasn't listening looked at the razor and asked "What's this for?" The boatman answered, gravely, "Well, if you don't win, I expect you all to do the honorable thing..."

04/11/2012  8:53:14 PM
There are also plenty of spare shoelaces on the rowers running shoes. Whichever donkey broke/lost the heel tie shall offer his own personal shoelace to the boat. This is to be sworn into Regatta Law on this day of our lord Ed Hewitt April 12th, 2012

Get our Newsletter!

Support row2k!

Tremendous thanks to our
row2k supporters!

Get Social with row2k!
Like row2k on Facebook Follow row2k on Twitter Follow row2k on Instagram Follow row2k on Youtube Connect with row2k on LinkedIn

Get the row2k app!

row2k rowing store!

Get our Newsletter!
Enter your email address to receive our weekly newsletter.

Support row2k!

Advertiser Index
Advertise on row2k