Thanks to some geographic inconveniences (like, you know, a lack of water), rowing in Colorado has always faced an upstream battle to gain popularity. The Rocky Mountain Rowing Club (RMRC) hopes to change that. On October 9, the nearly 40-year-old organization will host the 5280, the first head race in the Rocky Mountain region to be sanctioned by the U.S. Rowing Association. World-class crews will dip their oars into Cherry Creek Reservoir to tune up for prestigious East Coast competitions, including Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta. But the 5280 is also an opportunity for Coloradans to learn more about this centuries-old sport—which is why we asked RMRC member and certified U.S. Rowing coach Peter Gozar to help us get on board with the basics.

Row Like an Egyptian

Rowing as transportation started in ancient Egypt. Rowing as a sport didn’t shove off until the early 18th century, when English oarsmen began betting on who could carry passengers across the River Thames the fastest. The competitive endeavor became popular in the eastern United States in the mid-1800s due to the region’s convenient access to water. By 1852, rowing had become the first intercollegiate sport in the United States, thanks to the blue bloods at Harvard and Yale universities.

Race Against Time

Any rowing event can be called a regatta, but the 5280, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free for spectators to attend, is what’s known as a head race. Essentially time trials, head races range from three to five kilometers, though the 5280 is a touch longer at 5,280 meters (get it?). Alternatively, a sprint race features crews competing head-to-head (so, yes, it probably should be the head race…but it’s not) over a shorter, 2,000-meter course and is what you see during the Olympics.

Scull’s the Word

Rowing encompasses two disciplines: sculling and sweep rowing. In sculling, athletes (called scullers) hold one oar (called a scull) in each hand to propel the boat (also called a scull). Scullers row in singles, doubles, and quads. Sweepers use both arms to work a single oar and thus require an even number of rowers (two, four, or eight). Some sweep boats employ a coxswain, an on-water cheerleader who steers and typically displays an expert facility with bad words—to better motivate the crew.

A Leg Up

Many rowers have shoulders even Arnold would envy, but the full motion also relies heavily on core and leg muscles because athletes brace their feet and push with their quads. Olympic-caliber rowers will average around 30 to 50 strokes per minute, which means they’ll effectively grit their way through about 300 squats during the average six-minute sprint race. If that sounds like your kind of workout, the RMRC offers Learn to Row courses—though the 75-person class for spring 2023 is already full.

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that the 5280 regatta is not an official qualifier for East Coast competitions.