Rowing Shoes

14 September 2020

By Larry Fogelberg

Larry Fogelberg goes looking for rowing shoes.

Many of you “old boys” may recognize these, my 60-year-old rowing shoes (picture above). Hiding in a corner of my closet, they haven’t seen a stretcher in over 50 years (but my feet have). These shoes started me on a Google search, as I was hoping to find earlier and later rowing footwear. Although Google images gave me more than a page of photos of currently sold rowing shoes, these were not what I was looking for. Shimano, better known for biking equipment, is even in the market with shoes that require the matching stretcher, footboard in the UK.

Tim Koch’s article “Kit Inspection” was a little more helpful. It seems that Gaston Delaplane in 1906 and Cornell in 1911 had shoes very similar to mine. However, that didn’t offer anything for an article about the development of rowing shoes; indeed, it suggested that there had hardly been any rowing footwear in leather. Tim’s article did remind me that boats on the River Thames are often launched from the shore, feet or rubber boots in the water, so maybe rowing shoes were/are less common in the UK. Please correct me.

Google did not, however, completely disappoint me. On John Eade’s website Where Thames Smooth Water Glide in an article from 1891 in Outing, “Boating Life on the Upper Thames,” shoes are mentioned twice, to quote:

“I hope you have saddle-stained those new yellow shoes of yours; they looked too awfully new for anything last time we went up.” And thus the beautiful one has us all scampering off to our respective dens. Fifteen minutes later sees us white flannel or serge clad, low shod in tan leather or white pipe-clayed buckskin, piling into a wide, rubber-tired “S. T.” hansom, rolling off to Paddington Station…

… the turned-up bottoms showing an inch or two of black silk clad ankles above his pipe-clayed buckskin rowing shoes.

These men were not launching their boat at the shore. The article is, however, a snapshot of the American author’s outing told in delightful detail. I have to wonder if he was inspired by Mark Twain’s books about his travels. I was also delighted to see in an illustration that boat hooks for rowing boats haven’t changed in 130 years, at least not the ones at my club.

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