I squealed as I clumsily placed my foot into the Zeina and felt it rock slightly in the water.
“Don’t worry!” Coxswain Hamid Qabazard called out to me from the stern of the boat, where he’s about to guide myself, three other beginners and two experienced rowers alongside the coast by Al-Corniche club’s beach. “This boat is almost impossible to tip over, and we won’t get into any accidents – not unless you do something stupid!”
Stupid, I am not, but careless under pressure, I have been known to be, and so this instruction didn’t settle my nerves as well as Hamid might have intended it to. Nonetheless, I felt determined to get this right, and so I sat in my designated spot, gripped onto my (intimidatingly large) and beautifully constructed Macon oar and hoisted it upright between the security of my knees, as instructed. “Just remember,” Hamid continued as my rowing partners did the same. “These oars are incredibly expensive, and very difficult to replace.”
Backtracking a bit, I had no idea that rowing would be this complicated when I first heard about the activity being offered on Kuwait’s waters. Upon perusing Mark Makhoul’s blog 248am a few weeks prior, I’d read a review about his experience with Kuwait Pilot Gig Club, and felt intrigued.
The only problem? I have a little secret, readers: I have anxiety that’s triggered by wide open spaces. Call it agoraphobia, I call it a phase, but all I knew was the idea of being out in the middle of the Arabian Gulf attempting to row a boat may contradict my idea of calm.
Upon confirming two places with Hamid, one for my colleague and the other for myself, I reiterated this caveat to him. “It’s perfect for anxiety!” he would insist. And so, we found ourselves, a few days later, decked out in old tennis shoes and with a sneak peek of informative terms, benefits and tips provided by Hamid, ready to get on the boat.
Upon meeting Hamid in the flesh, he gave us the lowdown on the club, the boats, and the general mechanics. We were already a little familiar with the sport’s background, thanks to the information and videos we were sent prior to our little adventure, and I had also referenced past dabbles kayaking on the St. Lucie river in West Palm Beach, FL. But that was literally just me, in my aunt’s kayak, staying close to the jetty at all times.
This was far from similar, with Seaworthy boats called Kuwait Pilot Gigs, that were designed and built by Qabazard Marine LLC. and don’t even compare to my aunt’s dingy little kayak. Traditionally, they’re named after women, and our specific boat was named after Zeina Al-Baghli – the owner of an affiliate startup rowing club, and Stroke rower during our tasting session.
We pushed the boat out to sea as a team, hopped on and sailed away slowly. Hamid was there for us the whole time, proving himself to be a soothing presence for someone with a handful of anxieties. “Do you think we can stay close to the shore?” I remember asking, slightly shrilly. Hamid, as per reputation, was extremely gracious to my needs and insisted that they make sure to cater to the entire group’s needs while leading a row.
The row started off a little messy, because none of us necessarily knew what we were doing, but once we started getting comfortable, its rhythm was easy to upkeep. Lean forward, knees together, arms straight, make sure the leather is in the center of the thole pins and that the handy black line marked on the leather is always visible between them. Pull back, leaning all the way back – remember, your blade should move back and forth in a rectangular motion, not circular. And just like that, you’re rowing, following Hamid’s every step.
Once Zeina advised us to stop overthinking it, it became one of the most natural and relaxing focuses I’d experienced in a long time. We rowed in syncopation to the gentle waves and breeze of the sea, during the peak of that gorgeous Saturday morning, and my anxieties floated away in time to the rudder of the boat rocking melodically. I was hooked, and when our 90 minutes of rowing were over, knew that I would miss this day for a long time if I never allowed myself another rowing experience.
Once we were on dry land, this inspired me to do something I never thought I’d do during this phase of my life. I asked Hamid with a grin: “How can I sign up to do this more regularly?”
The 2018 Gig Rowing season will be over in May, so catch them while you can before Fall! Follow them on Instagram @kwt_pilot_gig for more information, and sign up on the app Teamstuff to register for group rows.