By Muna M. Al Gharabally
As Kuwait grows, daily life has gotten more chaotic. No matter who you are, or what you do, you have to deal with the mayhem of Kuwait’s road traffic and other stresses in your daily life. If, like me, you seek to find new and better ways to exercise and socialize, Pilot Gig Rowing may be what you are looking for.
A certain peace can be attained bobbing in the water in a boat rowing with five other rowers under the guidance of a cox. You work as a team, rowing in tandem. No noise from an on-board engine, just the lap of the waves, the sound of the blade of your oar cutting into the water and the gentle knock of the oar between two pins as you row. Personally, I find a serenity washes over me as I allow these sounds to calm my mind while my body is exercised with the effort of rowing.
The Kuwait Pilot Gig Crew is a community program. The crew is made up from a diverse group with one common interest; to row in good company. Team effort is encouraged with a healthy dose of training and discipline to help develop the crew’s skills, but at the heart of every training schedule or row is a lot of fun.
At the helm of this community program is Hamid Qabazard. I asked him to elaborate on how this sport came to be.
Our Sport, Pilot Gig Racing, evolved from being a functional general work boat that carried pilots (captains) to incoming boats to safely navigate them into coastal waters. As pilots faced stiff competition, speed was a necessary factor to reach the incoming boats to receive the commission. The fastest Pilot Gig Crew powered by six stalwart rowers and cox evolved into the sport now known as Pilot Gig Racing.
When did you start this program in Kuwait?
The program’s inception was in February 2017. Our pioneering team made history as we were the first Arab crew to take part in The Great River Race London 2017. In just one year our crew doubled in size and we had two boats carrying the Kuwait flag completing the race in 2018.
How many boats do you currently have?
Currently we have three boats, each named after a founding crew member in recognition of their contributions – but we will be building more as our crews grow.
The social rows are currently taking place on the coastal waters off Shaab, do all your rows originate from here?
No, once novice rowers are more comfortable, we introduce them to the coastal waters around Khairan. The confined waters of Khairan make this location an ideal venue for uninterrupted rowing.
What about the more advanced rowers?
Later in the season, as the crews become more competent, we also have more advanced and longer lasting rows along the northern coastline of Kuwait Bay. These rows are full of surprises, as you may find yourself rowing across green waters or come across migrating birds nesting in any of the shipwrecks along the 70 kilometer course to Failaka. Sandbanks constantly shift in these waters and crews need to adapt their rowing cadence in order to navigate and row through some strong currents at times. This helps us to develop and train the maritime skills in our advanced rowers so that they are more adept at navigation, wind change, currents and shifting terrain.
Can anybody take part in a social row?
Anybody who is over 18 and in good general health may join after some preliminary training.
As you begin your third year, what is in store for the future?
We have been proud to achieve a number of firsts already; we are the first Arab team to take part in the Great River Race London in 2017 and when we returned in September 2018 we had the first Arab woman, Kuwait’s Mona Al-Rashed, as a cox on one of the two boats we completed the 34 kilometer race on the Thames. Our aim is to continue to grow and get stronger so that we can take part in more adventures both regionally and internationally. We have grown amazingly in our first two years, with a steep learning curve.
It is my wish for the program to continue to flourish and grow. We are exploring several ideas that I am very excited about; for example, we would like to offer local companies team building executive programs where we would take six employees on six rows. Over the six rows, our cox will train them to work as a team through a series of rowing exercises. We feel this type of program could be beneficial on a number of fronts such as fulfilling the needs of company’s corporate social responsibility programs whilst building better teams within companies and best of all by introducing a green activity as the power that propels the boat is not a fossil fuel, but the rowers efforts.
I was there on the banks of the Thames on the eighth of September of this year, cheering the two boats with Kuwaiti flags fluttering in the breeze. Over 320 boats took part, and although I did none of the hard work of rowing the course, I felt joy for knowing the rowers in those two boats.
The sea is calling me now, pulling me away from the hurly burly of daily life, and I long to be back on the waves with my crew making calming music as our oars cut into the water and propel us onwards.
Currently, the Kuwaiti Pilot Gig Crew are running their training program three times a week (open to cancellation if weather or sea conditions are poor). All schedules and media can be accessed through their Instagram page @kwt_pilot_gig. Images courtesy of Kuwait Pilot Gig Rowing Club.