What are “heel-stops”?

Steve Fairbairn. Photo: Tim Koch.

29 August 2020

A reader’s question.

Now and then, HTBS receives emails from readers and others who have comments or questions about something related to rowing or its rich history. The other day, Brian Dawe sent HTBS an interesting question that might appeal to you readers. Maybe you know the answer? If so, please write a comment. Thank you!

Brian writes:

I came across a description in Steve Fairbairn’s Rowing Notes (1926):

Professional scullers used to say in the old days, “We hook the boat past us with our toes.” I always used to coach that, although professionals advocated the hook with the toes, it was better for the amateur to trust to swing alone, and I thought I was doing this myself. But one day towards the end of my rowing career I noticed that I was drawing with my toes. The habit had crept in quite unconsciously. My heels were well on the stretcher, but the toes were drawing firmly, using the shin-muscles to control the swing. That is what the beginner is doing in the rough, but it is better to get a well-balanced swing first. In fact, a very good exercise is to row without straps in a tub pair, although it makes the finish a little awkward. Heel-stops should be abolished; they encourage the wrong idea; and worst of all is the ring sometimes put on an oar to position the hands.

What are “heel-stops”? What we call heel cups? I am imagining a short piece of 1″ square wood at the bottom of the stretcher to keep the heels from sliding to the bottom of the boat. But I’d like to be accurate.

Many thanks,
Brian (Dawe)


  1. I used to row in a fine four in the 1970s which had what were called “clogs” . These were wooden platforms to the side of which were nailed two leather pieces joined in the middle with laces to secure the front parts of your feet. They were complemented by heel cups at the bottom of the wooden platforms. These platforms did not move unlike rowing shoes and it was wise to wear heavy socks as your heels lifted out of the heel cups as you moved up the slide and back into them as you approached the finish.

  2. Ralf-Peter Stumme, a boat restorer in Germany who has had some articles published on HTBS, writes:

    According to my knowledge, the heel-stop is a synonym for the heel-holder. The first heel-holders were made from wood with two rounded cutouts for the heels. In literature, you will find that the first heel-holders were made by the boatyard of Wilhelm Rettig in Berlin in 1882. It´s the same man who invented the oar with hollowed shaft one year later.

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