Saturday, April 26, 2008

Never Try to Out-Hobby a Japanese Person

Today, rowing practice lasted for 2 hours and 37 minutes. Mind you, that's not counting the time we spent on land fiddling around with the adjustments on that boat. That's honest to God, out on the water rowing time.

I lost interest after about 30 minutes. I started to think about the longest amount of time I could be interested in a sport. I thought maybe I could play basketball for a couple hours easily, soccer too. Swimming gets boring roughly as fast as rowing, because it's also repetitive and hard. I thought I could probably spend a good half-day or more shooting clay pigeons before I got bored, and could cycle pretty much infinitely if the terrain was interesting. I love weight-lifting, and I'm still interested in that long after I've become to wrecked to do it anymore. Even the world's second-lamest sport (after rowing), bowling, grabs me for about 3/4 of an hour usually.

At about 45 minutes in I reflected that I've never once, not one single time, gone out for a rowing practice and not immediately started thinking about how awesome it would be to dock and go home. I should probably make some lifestyle changes based on this revelation.

At 1 hour in I started to just count strokes. I stopped at around 230 because I saw a fish jumping in the water. I wondered what kind of fish it was, and thought the guy in front of me probably knew because he was in the fish business.

At 1.5 hours in, we docked briefly so the high schooler could leave and go to some appointment. I glared at him jealously as he sumimasened his way out of there. I cursed myself for not signing up for 7:30 flute lessons or something.

After 2 hours I entered what I call "limboat." This is a sensation that transcends boredom into something more metaphysical. You don't feel like you particularly exist or don't exist. Maybe you're rowing, you don't notice any more. You vaguely hear the coxswain's commands and react to them more out of muscle memory than conscious decision. Your jaw is slack. Your eyes are glazed over. I remember quite well the last time I entered this stage of half-existence.

We were in college, doing like 5 minute races by sixes in the eight at low stroke rates. If you don't row, that just means that the boat was guaranteed to feel heavy and horrible and your back would be really sore after practice. One of my best friends had just quit, and I was depressed and angry at the situation around that team. For whatever reason, this one guy's boat ALWAYS won at this particular workout, to the point of absurdity. I happened to be in it that day. I remember just kind of zoning out and deciding for the first and only time in my entire rowing career to not try hard. As I sand-bagged myself into a near-hypnotized state, we were still winning every race by about the same margin, which really reinforced the sad futility of the situation and sent me further off into my own mind.

At 2 and a half hours in I drifted back into consciousness because I was hungry and getting angry as a result. But then we started to go back towards the dock and I was pacified. The rowing at that point was hilariously bad. People were just kind of half-heartedly flopping their oars around the water because, after all, they are 50-year-olds who just went out and rowed as hard as they could for 2 and a half hours.

This is the Japanese method of doing a hobby. Because hobbies aren't fun until you do them until they're not fun.

Write that down, that's good advice.


d said...

This is your best writing yet in this blog. Excellent, Nate.

Sam said...

Wow, I've never heard a more accurate description of what rowing is like. It's as if you recorded my thoughts while rowing and then wrote them down.

I used to try to predict how many more strokes before we stopped or turned around, and then I would count down from there.

One summer at camp I remember being capable of predicting how far we were from the dock to within 2 or 3 stokes at the end of every practice.

Nate said...

d- thanks! and of course, thanks for reading.

sam- not bad. I never got better than 10 or 15. What a sick sport. thank god for slipped discs and shouting swear words at coaches right? saved us both a lot of grief in our later years of college...

Tom said... what is your advice for someone who wants to pick up rowing?

And, I completely agree with D, your writing is great and your blog an enjoyable read.

Nate said...

tom- thank you! My advice to someone who wants to pick up rowing is simple: start sculling, row a single, and constantly race people who suck.

This way you can retain your autonomy and cut practice short when you feel like it, and you access the one fun part of rowing--winning--as much as possible.