A guide for new surfboat sweep hands

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Instructions for new sweeps

The moment of truth

Some time ago Australian surf rower Bill ‘Woofa’ Barnett wrote a manual explaining the facts of life for new sweeps – the people who steer surfboats.

Being a sweep is a highly skilled activity in which experience counts for a lot, and I gather good sweeps continue in the role for many decades.

However, for most boat users, the manual  will be an extraordinary, jaw-dropping document. It’s divided into two main sections covering coping with surf and competing in races. The first section is the one that caught my attention. Here’s a couple of quotes:

Going over a big greenie

‘This is spine chilling and the boat will land with a thud on the other side of this wall of water. Your job is to land well balanced, on your feet controlling the sweep oar, so that it does not slam down on the quarter bar or stroke’s head. Calm your crew and get them going again at top speed… Remember you are never safely through surf until you are atleast 100m past the regular break line.’


Surf sense

‘Some of the greatest sweeps of all time could not swim, had no original surf sense, broke many boats and nearly killed themselves, many times. They succeeded with pure guts and determination.’

Read more at the Australian Surf Rowers League website: Sweeps Manual

After reading some of this manual, it comes as no surprise that the publishers accept no responsibility for anything that might go wrong when following these instructions. You only have to see a few photos to understand why!

My thanks to Dale for pointing this out!

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5 thoughts on “A guide for new surfboat sweep hands”

  1. Dude- what is up with the Speedos?! I know they have boardshorts in Australia. Those wipeouts would look much more dramatic if their rosy cheeks weren't showing around a thong strap! I'd love to give surfboating a try though- looks like a blast.

  2. They're actually wearing regular swimming trunks (see shot 9/11 in Gav's photo link) but the oarsmen pull them up into their bum-cracks so their bare buttocks get a better grip on the seats and then they can get more power into each stroke. (shot 8/11 shows the smooth seats they try to keep on).

  3. Boardshorts! Nasty uncomfortable things! Speedos (if you can find em) are the next best things to nothing at all, that's the point. And frankly I don't care what anyone else thinks I look like.

    Surf boats. Ive rowed in a crew. Exhilarating, hard work, heaps scary and occasionally bl**dy dangerous. I loved it though but was a bit small to be a regular member of a crew.

  4. Err,

    Bare buttocks are not for a better "grip", rather the reverse. The seats work as a slide. The bare bum slides over the seat, just as a sliding seat does, albeit with minimal hardware. The rowing action and power is from the legs driving the oarsman's body back long the seat.

    Both sexes race these boats and the wedgie is the standard method of getting the most frictionless slide without resorting to a tracked seat.

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