Diary of a Coxswain

PIXIE FALLAS writes on life as a cox exclusively in The Tab. Read more here.

Caius rowing college rowing Coxing Pixie Fallas Rowing

I do not like what the world looks like at 6am in the morning.

I really do dread that fateful moment when 5.59am ends, with loud vibrations and a sickeningly cheerful jingle. I despise the feeling of having had no sleep, despite having gone to bed before 10 with a view to getting 8 solid hours in. Nevertheless, I adore the reason behind my alarm and, once up, having assured myself that this is indeed Earth, I am a very happy person. For I am a coxswain for a successful boat club and will spend the next hour and a half shouting at eight men almost twice the size of me, who all have to do exactly what I say.

I think many a cox will agree with me when I say that coxing can be a thankless task. It may not be physically demanding (I’m not even going to bother trying to persuade you that it is…) but I can assure you that it is a genuine mental challenge. It takes a certain type of person to enjoy sitting in the cold or in the rain, or in the cold rain, being shouted at not only by your coach but also by your rowers, other coaches, other coxes and their crews, being told to do 6 different things – which often contradict each other – whilst maintaining composure and the feeling in your extremities.

My biggest issue with coxing right now, however, is ignorance. It’s not me (OK, sometimes it’s me), it’s them. Give a cox the title of ‘senior’ eight weeks after they novice and they suddenly think they own the Cam. Circulation rules and all apprehension of them fly out of the window once Lent term begins. Only a few days ago I had to hold it up for a crew (I will not mention names) who were on completely the wrong side of the river. As we floated there in a tangle of oars and egos, I pointedly looked at the many other colleges rowing past us on the correct side and muttered, ‘well as least some of us understand.’ I got a very dirty look for my troubles.

Don’t get me wrong – the aim of this article is not to inform you about my perfect coxing abilities. I am far from even being worthy of being called ‘good’. I have a huge amount to learn and nowhere near enough experience. To be honest, I respect my crew a lot for just allowing me to jump back into the boat each time. I am, however, quite often blameless and this is where coxing can get tough. Crews get frustrated for things that are beyond the cox’s control (like having to pull oars in for a crew who have decided the middle of the Cam is their favourite place to row). I wish to inform all rowers now that this pisses off their coxes just as much: we are happiest when you are rowing your hearts out and it’s incredibly annoying to have to stop a fantastic piece because someone has decided to ‘easy there’ because a swan got in their way. It happens.

But despite the cold, the resultant hypothermia, the shouting, the idiots, the angry swans and the ever present houseboats, I really do love my job. It’s a great feeling when you knock off  3 or 4 seconds from a 500 metre piece and know that, just possibly, some of that is down to your motivation or because earlier on you noticed 5 was digging his blade and 7 was catching late.

We may not have the leg length or the stamina to erg for hours on end but let’s face it – coxes contribute just as much to a successful boat as their crew do.