27 October 2017
In Sweden, Lund University Rowing Club (Lunds Universitets Roddklubb, LURK) is celebrating 25 years of competing against the rowing club at Uppsala University, Uppsala Academic Rowing Society (Uppsala Akademiska Roddarsällskap, UARS). This year, LURK was victorious in both the men’s and women’s races, which were held on the Malmö canal earlier this month. Eline Visser, stroke in LURK women’s crew, reports:
Although I have only rowed for four years, I’ve been a member of four rowing clubs while moving around in Northern Europe. There was the club with the elaborate rookie-training programme, which included not only rowing technique but also coxing, docking and safety. There was the club with two boat houses full of new boats, where all rowers who regularly trained got assigned their own boat. There was the club with the online boat booking system, where you could book the boats that were assigned to rowers of your “class”, depending on how many rowing exams you had passed. And then there was Lund University Rowing Club (Lunds Universitets Roddklubb, LURK), which I joined last year after moving to Lund, an old university town in the flat and agricultural south of Sweden.
There doesn’t seem to be very much to LURK. In fact, it is somewhat surprising that the club exists at all. Lund lacks larger bodies of water suitable for rowing. So when the club was founded in 1992, students had to set up their activities in nearby Malmö, nowadays famous for its car fires and perhaps the nearby Öresund Bridge (featured in the Danish-Swedish tv series The Bridge). In Malmö, the students found Malmö Rowing Club (Malmö Roddklubb, MRK) with roots back to the late 19th century. MRK was willing to share their clubhouse and boats with the students from LURK. Now LURK is an official part of MRK.
Malmö has a lot of water, but it’s not the kind of water most rowers are used to. The LURK students navigate the occasionally stinky canal in the city centre of Malmö. It’s a stretch of a few kilometres, but we usually only use the widest and straightest parts. With a narrow bridge every several hundred metres, and having to share the water with canoers, stand up paddle boards (SUPs), tourists in paddle boats and the occasional dragon boat, it is hard to focus on both technique and power, when steering requires so much attention.
The boats aren’t much to write home about either. Coming from a club where I rowed my own Empacher, I was slightly shocked to see boats duct taped together, old wooden singles gathering dust on the top racks, boats that seemed to be put together from parts of at least five other boats, oars from my grandmother’s time – all stored in a narrow boat house. Understandably, the board of the club, partly made up of a few Swedes who have rowed the Malmö canal for decades and who nurse the club like their own child, is protective of its better materials. The rowdy students who invade the boathouse five times a week are assigned the lesser materials – being allowed the best boats and oars only when racing.
And then the LURK rowers: they are a mixed bunch of exchange students around for one or two semesters, experienced rowers from countries where rowing is big, such as Germany, Australia, the U.S. and The Netherlands, and the odd Swede, who has usually picked up rowing abroad. Rowing isn’t actually a thing in Sweden. Among the exchange students, there’s always a bunch of beginners, who are taught to row in heavy inriggers by the more experienced rowers, who typically have no coxing or coaching skills. At LURK, you are quickly categorized as “experienced”. Learned to row last semester? Teach it this term!
But LURK has charm, making it work despite the odds. I actually have gotten to like LURK including all its shortcomings. Every accomplishment at LURK is self-made, which gives a good feeling. And the club is not only for sports: at least once a week we meet up at one of Malmö’s or Lund’s student bars, where beer is served for a third of the regular bar price. Many of our members have become friends outside the club as well.
As for rowing, recently things seemed to have changed for the better. Last year, Ben Jackson, a young but experienced coach volunteered to coach LURK. Ben is ambitious, and implemented an elaborate training schedule. It includes everything from sessions on the water and on the rowing machine, to doing max weights and weight circuits, as well as regular tests. We track our progress in online documents that we update ourselves. This semester he is even assisted by a Canadian exchange student, who taught us the fun of warming up, making us do synchronized jumping jacks.
This autumn, the men were especially blessed as a few strong and experienced rowers joined the club and supplemented the already quite strong men’s crew.
Under Ben’s guidance, a women’s and men’s eight were formed in September to follow a five-week training schedule towards LURK’s most important yearly race: the Lund vs. Uppsala University Race. Inspired by the famous Boat Race, the founders of LURK must have thought it made sense if Sweden’s two oldest universities also got their own race. The university’s clubs have been competing yearly ever since, with many favourable results for both Uppsala and Lund. It doesn’t have quite the same feel as The Boat Race, though. This year there were some 20 supporters and a few passers-by who stopped to watch the races. Beforehand, I had to explain to my friends that no, rowing is not the same as canoeing, it’s the one where you move backwards. Nevertheless, the race is an annual highlight for the rowers from both clubs.
LURK organized this year’s race, held in early October. The men’s crew was superior with their streamlined crew, winning three out of the three 500-metre races and leaving Uppsala chanceless every heat. The women’s crew was less sure of their capabilities, with four inexperienced rowers in the boat. Uppsala won the first heat with ¾ boat length, perhaps due to the whole and half crab LURK caught on the way. The second heat was won by LURK, although the oars were doing a Mexican wave, according to a member from the men’s crew. The third heat was nerve-wracking, with the Lund boat zigzagging across the canal while Uppsala pulled all they could. But the five weeks of training paid off, if not in technique it did in power, and LURK won the third heat just ahead of Uppsala.
Read a report of the races in Lund University student magazine Lundagård here (in English!).
The race is followed by a dinner and party at the boathouse, with a gift exchange between the men’s and women’s crews, and then the second-most important event of the day: the battle for the dance cup. The cup is as old as the race, and goes to the club leaving the dance floor last. I think both clubs set a record this year by dancing until Uppsala actually had to start driving back home at 8:30 the next morning, making a win for LURK inevitable.
With a double-win at the university race in the pocket, LURK is confident for the future. Lately, the organization within the club (and cooperation between MRK and LURK) seems to become more professional. In addition, LURK has even managed to attract a sponsor through their coach. With a group larger than ever and an enthusiastic coach, we are now even training for the European Universities Games. There has also been talk of training sessions on a lake in southern Sweden with an actual two-kilometre stretch.
The yearly in and outflux of rowers, as well as the precarious economic situation of the rowing club make the continuity of LURK’s success vulnerable. So perhaps when a future LURK member writes up the status quo of the club at the next big anniversary, it’s all back to its normal ramshackle state. But does it matter? As long as the bare minimum is covered, the student rowers will continue to train hard, party harder, and race the hardest.