Rivanna Rowing Club marks 20th year

If you’re looking for a way to explore local waterways while getting a full-body workout, rowing is an option that can be done leisurely or competitively.

The Rivanna Rowing Club, located on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, is a nonprofit organization that accepts beginners or experienced rowers for their season starting in May.

“It’s hard to find a body of water that’s so clean, flat and non-disturbed like the Rivanna Reservoir,” said club member Alejandro Gomez-Torres. “That makes rowing a lot of more enjoyable.”

The 20-year-old club has more than 170 members and features programs for all skill levels, ages 14 to retirees. The club provides the opportunity to learn sweep rowing or sculling and has a “learn to row” program for beginners that covers the basics and terminology.

“Members are always supporting each other,” said club member Allison Pugh. “It provides a good opportunity to try rowing for the first time and see if you like it.”

Sweep rowing is popular among college crew teams, where each of the eight rowers has one oar, about 12 feet long. In sculling, each rower has two oars, each about 9 feet long.

Gary Sloan, a club member for 13 years, said the reservoir is a great place to learn the sport because the trees lining both sides act as a wind barrier. He also said rowing is not just a workout for your arms.

“The power in rowing comes from the legs,” Sloan said. “It’s less of an impact on your knees since most of your body weight is sitting on a seat.”

Pugh said she likes the opportunity to be exercising on flat water with the herons, eagles and turtles in view.

“There’s an incredible amount of peace that surrounds you while you’re also working really hard,” she said.

In addition to the Rivanna Rowing Club, local students get in on the action thanks to teams at Albemarle and Western Albemarle High schools and the University of Virginia.

The Rivanna club is able to share the Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse at the Magruder Dent Jr. Rowing Center with UVa’s nationally ranked women’s and men’s rowing programs.

Rivanna club member Jack Brown said it is a great relationship.

“Almost invariably, our club coaches in the summer are the assistant coaches from men’s or women’s team at UVa,” Brown said.

Sloan said the club benefits from the experience of the university rowers and even gets extra hands for boat repairs.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship … sharing the same dock and water,” he said.

UVa head rowing coach Kevin Sauer said the Rivanna club is very good about giving them space during their busy times, especially in the spring.

“Their board is awesome and very cooperative,” Sauer said.

The Western Albemarle team rows on the Beaver Creek Reservoir but students still participate in the club’s summer programs. Some high school students also have gone on to row at the college level.

“UVa is such a powerhouse, and many of their athletes grow up here,” said WAHS head coach Myriam Pitts, whose two daughters rowed for UVa. “There is always a draw to go there and row.”

“Rowing is easy to learn,” Brown said. “We bring in people, teach them rowing and they often become national champions.”

The Rivanna Rowing Club is hosting free open houses for beginners ages 14 and up Saturday and June 13 at the boathouse, 276 Woodlands Road. Sessions for those who have rowed before and want to get back into it are planned for Saturday and May 16. Visit for more information and directions.