The history of rowing is a long one. Full of ingenuity and developments that have seen us go from wide boats with thick, heavy, wooden oars to the fiberglass beauties that we see today powered by carbon-composite oars.
If we look at the timeline of rowing set out by the Friends of Rowing History, they have shown that there is evidence of rowing boats more than 2000 years ago.
The racing of boats does not appear until the 18th century in Britain. In some classical texts the very first regattas that compare with what we have today took place. Although the history of rowing is a long one, the list of the top oars is short.
That is because only four companies factor in the elite market. Dreissigacker/Concept2. Croker Oars. Wintech Racing. Dreher Carbon Oars.
The choice of an oar is a very personal thing. I have never seen a speed test take place that categorically proves one is faster or better than the other. Yet, there are things to consider when choosing a set of oars.
The premier oar used in competitive rowing is Dreissigacker. Dreissigacker oars started with 2 brothers. Richard Dreissigacker and his brother were born in Connecticut in 1947.
Whilst studying for a degree in engineering at Brown University, Richard took up rowing and eventually went on to compete at the summer Olympics in 1972.
In 1976, Richard and his brother failed to be selected for the US Olympic team and created the company that we now know as Concept2. The Dreissigacker brothers were the first to modify their oars with carbon fibre.
In 1992, they developed an oar with a new shape. They moved away from the symmetrical Macon blade, to the hatchet blade. This changed the overall trend in the sport. Concept2 today make five differing big blades.
The oar shafts have three different levels of stiffness and three different types of construction. You can buy an oar with the original composite-fiberglass mix, the low inertia composite oar, or the ultralight composite.
Croker Oars is one of the top 2 oar makers, alongside Dreissigacker, that the majority of elite competitors use in international competitions.
The company was started in Sydney, Australia by Howard Croker. These days the oars are manufactured out of Oxley Island, Taree in New South Wales.
In the 1950s, Howard Croker and his 2 brothers were attending Newington College where their father was the rowing coach. During the 1960s Howard became a successful competitive rower and won State and National titles.
At the time he rowed as part of the Haberfield Rowing Club out of Dobroyd Point. He later went on to coach for The Scots College during 1975 and 1976.
If you look into the companies history you will find that Howard Croker was actually a boat builder who identified a need for a higher quality oar.
During 1982, his workshop, which only had capacity for two people, produced over 400 oars. Jump forward to 2011 and his crew of 25 men and women now make upwards of 15,000 carbon composite oars every year.
Croker West is the distribution partner in North America and they are located in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In the US, there are two different types of Croker shaft available to you.
There is the M4 Full Carbon, which is a low-inertia oar aimed at the elite level of racing. There is also the M2 Superlight which is one of the lightest oars on the market currently. Both the M4 Full Carbon and the M2 Superlight are available in 3 different stiffness levels and with hatchet blades.
WinTech Racing Oars
WinTech Racing primarily produce racing shells out of their base in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA. The shell designs come from the mercurial Klaus Filter. Klaus Filter was formerly known as the chairman of the International Rowing Federation’s Material Commission.
For 30 years before the reunification, Klaus was the Director of Research and Development for the East German Rowing team. These days he work as production consultant for WinTech Racing.
WinTech Racing produce their oars and boats out of the Flying Eagle Boat Company in Hangzhou, China. They manufacture their boats out of China because in 2004 they partnered with The Flying Eagle Boat Company and Drew Harrison Racing Shells to ultimately make one of the biggest manufacturers of boats and oars in the world.
The partnership allowed WinTech to increase the size of the operation and now there are roughly 200 workers who create over 2000 racing shells.
WinTech Racing manufacture three different oar models. All 3 are made with the hatchet-blade design. They have a heavier model which is made out of a 60/40 fiberglass and composite mix. Then their two other designs, the ultralight and braided carbon, are both made with 90/10 carbon and fiberglass.
Dreher Carbon Oars
In 1988 the Durham Boat Company began to produce sculling oars. In 1989 their oars began to gather a cult following and were evem used at the World Rowing Championship.
Always looking for the next R&D break through the Durham Boat Company created the adjustable handle feature in 1991. The company has a deep desire to give their customers the competitive edge when it comes to their rowing and this shows with their latest oars.
Dreher began to offer oars in 2001 that were manufactured with high modulus carbon and a twill fabric surface. This specific blend of high modulus carbon has meant that Dreher can manufacture lighter oars without losing stiffness, longevity or durability.
The Durham Company has always used some form of modulus carbon in their racing oars.
Dreher Oars interestingly only produce 1 variety of sweep oar. The sweep oar has a carbon shaft and has been tipped an APEX 2000 blade.
Durham believe that is has a number of improvements over the previous models. It has a smooth blade which guarantees efficient and improved hydrodynamics. This means that the blade is allowed to enter the water with the lowest amount of drag.
The Dreher oar comes with two varieties of stiffness and has the option of having a moisture-wicking grip attached.
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The journey of rowing, from its humble beginnings over 2000 years ago to the highly competitive and technologically advanced sport we see today, is truly fascinating. The transition from heavy wooden oars to sleek carbon-composite ones is a testament to human innovation and our constant quest for improvement.
While the timeline of rowing history is extensive, the list of top oars is significantly shorter, reflecting the stringent standards and high performance demanded in this sport. These oars, much like the athletes who wield them, are the culmination of centuries of progress, honed to perfection to deliver optimal results.
As we continue to delve into the captivating world of rowing, let’s remember to appreciate the rich history and relentless ingenuity that have shaped this sport. Whether you’re a seasoned rower or just starting your journey, every stroke you take is a part of this enduring legacy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How has the construction of oars evolved over time?
Oars have come a long way from the thick, heavy wooden ones used centuries ago. Today’s oars are typically made from lightweight, durable materials like carbon-composite, designed to maximize efficiency and performance.
2. When did boat racing start?
Boat racing as we know it began in the 18th century in Britain, marking the birth of regattas that bear resemblance to modern-day competitions.
3. What makes an oar considered ‘top’?
Top oars are determined by their design, material, and performance. They are typically lightweight, durable, and engineered to maximize power and control, aiding rowers in achieving their best performance.
4. Is rowing a sport only for professionals?
No, rowing can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of skill level. While there are professional and elite categories, many people row for fitness, fun, or the love of the sport.
5. How has rowing changed over the years?
Rowing has evolved considerably over the centuries, from changes in boat and oar design to the rules and format of racing. What hasn’t changed is the spirit of the sport—its blend of grace, power, and teamwork continues to captivate athletes and spectators alike.