What part of the stroke/stroke cycle does it refer to
Any point during the recovery but primarily the top quarter of the slide as you prepare for the catch.
What does it mean/refer to
Skying the blade refers to the blade being too high above the water, either consistently throughout the recovery or right before/at the catch. It’s caused by two main things: one, not carrying the hands at a consistent height throughout the recovery (i.e. either immediately out of the release or by lowering/dropping the hands at the catch) and two, by lowering the upper body (usually as a result of lunging) and forcing the hands down towards the feet at the catch. (The latter in my experience tends to be the more common of the two.)
Many of the relevant calls for skying the blade aren’t necessarily for the skying itself, they’re for things like maintaining level hands on the recovery, setting the body angle early and maintaining it to avoid throwing the body forward at the catch, maintaining good posture, not rowing in a circle, keeping the eyes up/forward (because the hands do follow the eyes, regardless of whether they believe you when you say that or not … which they likely won’t but watch the hands of any rower who is looking down and you’ll see what I mean), etc.
If I see someone’s blade in the air, how I approach it will depend on who I’m coxing. If I’m coxing an experienced crew that doesn’t really need everything spelled out for them then I’ll just make a quick “Sam, watch the hands, you’re skying…” call and that will almost always fix the problem. Usually calls like this are made towards the end of a hard workout and are more reflective of the rower(s) just being tired and getting a little lazy with their bodies rather than it being an actual technical issue. This has been the case with the majority of the intermediate and masters crews that I’ve coxed.
If I know that a rower has a tendency to, for example, slump over when they get tired or they have poor posture in general then I’ll substitute “watch the hands”, which is pretty broad, with something specific to them, like “stay tall with the body, hold the hands up into the catch” or “keep the shoulders and hands up at the front end”. In instances like this I try not to say anything about what the blade is doing since it’s a secondary issue rather than a primary one but if the skying persists after a couple strokes then I’ll say something, usually like “Sam, gotta hold the hands level here on the recovery, you’re skying your blade nearly every stroke…”.
In high school I’d have to go into a lot more detail to fix the problem which was occasionally frustrating because I’d get caught up with trying to think through the process in my head of what was causing it, how it should look vs. what it looked like then, what I needed to address first, etc. and that would cause me to ignore a lot of other things that were going on (including how I was steering). What this taught me was not only the snowball effect that one issue can have on the rest of the stroke but also how to think fast in order to diagnose what I was seeing (and how important it was to learn about this stuff off the water so I wasn’t trying to learn it in the moment).
What this has to do with calls relevant to skying the blade (or any issue, really) is that because I had to know what calls to make for the issues preceding the rower skying their blade, once I had developed a good understanding of technique and how the stroke should look I was able to make more precise calls and make them say, one stroke after noticing the problem rather than three or four strokes after. Basically the better I understood what caused them to do X, the more accurate and efficient I was able to be in making calls to address that and in turn, problem Y was fixed in the process.
What to look for
This is one of the easiest things for coxswains to see so there’s never an excuse to not point it out when you notice it. It’s usually much easier to point this out with experienced crews because when the handle heights are more consistent across the board the outlier will stand out more and you’ll immediately notice it, whereas with novice/younger crews there can be a lot of different things happening and unless the skying is really egregious it might not be the first thing you notice.
From the launch it’s easy to see when a rower’s hands are dipping down or their posture is collapsing at the front end but when you’re coxing you have to rely entirely on the bladework to alert you of these two things. As previously mentioned, you’ll either see the blade high off the water consistently throughout the recovery or you’ll see the blade make a really extravagant swooping motion at the catch. (I usually refer to this as “flourishing the blade”.) If you could see an illustrated path of the hands it would probably look something like the Nike swoosh, starting from the right side and moving left.
Another thing to look for is the square timing. If when they square corresponds to when the blade skies then that rower is likely squaring down (i.e. pushing down with the hands as their inside hand rotates the handle) instead of maintaining a level, horizontal angle between the release and catch as they square.
Ideally you want the blade to be carried about 6″ off the water (give or take) and if the rowers are carrying the blade too low to begin with (i.e. it’s dragging on the water or it’s just barely above the surface) then that can also cause them to sky the blade. In order to give them room to square it up and prepare for the catch they’ll drop their hands, resulting in the blade going up in the air. Here you should be looking at the distance between the blade when it’s feathered and the surface of the water – if you can’t see any daylight between the two, remind the rowers of where the blade needs to be and the adjustments they should make with their hands.
The key here is that skying the blade is always the result of something else (that in turn has it’s own set of results stemming from it) so when you see someone doing it, you have to take a step back and focus less on the aesthetics (simply getting their blade to match everyone else’s) and instead address the actual issue that’s causing the blade to sky. This means inferring a lot of things about the hands and body based on what you currently see the blade doing but if you have a good understanding of what the “ideal” recovery looks like, both technically and with regards to body positioning, it shouldn’t be hard to call for a correction that addresses more than one issue at a time.
Below are two videos that illustrate what skying actually looks like. If you compare it to “normal” rowing, such as in this video where the blades are relatively level throughout, you might be able to see the difference a little easier.
In this video, pay attention to stern pair. It’s a little tough to see three see but you really don’t even need to see his catch to know he’s skying, simply based on the trajectory of his hands and what you can see from the first part of the recovery. Stroke seat becomes a little more obvious with his skying towards the end of the video and the amount of water he’s missing is a lot more apparent.
Effect(s) on the boat
To name a few: poor catch timing (you’ll almost always be late), missed water at the catch, no suspension, decreased boat speed/increased check since you’ll likely be starting the drive without the blade in the water, and poor set due to hands dipping down into the catch instead of rising into it.
To see all the posts in this series, check out the “top 20 terms” tag.