A beginner’s guide to boatie ‘pain-faces’

The Tab takes you on a journey through the world of rowing pain-faces, and makes dozens of boatie enemies in the process.

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Rowing isn’t the most accessible of sports. Groups of boaties at brunch are surrounded by empty chairs, and discussions of 2k splits and power 10s alienate the best of us.

Having never rowed before Cambridge, I had glared in envy at the cover photos and profile pictures splashed across my newsfeed. Old friends looking tough and fit in their rowing kits: intense, yet impressively in control.

Come my first race, I was chomping at the bit to see how cool the photographers had made me look. And then this happened:

Having been given the chance to photograph this year’s Pembroke Regatta, I thought I’d take you through some of the more typical manifestations of these so-called ‘pain-faces’, so that you can be prepared for Lent bumps, and all the photos it shall bring.

Strap in…

1. The angry

A classic pain-face. Gritted teeth, terrifying expressions, looking like they want to murder the man/woman sitting in front. Stay out of their way, and give them quiet time after their race.

2. The balloon

Another classic. Scientifically proven to make the boat go faster, the balloon pain-face does what it says in the tin. And does it in the least attractive manner possible.

3. The photogenic

These rowers tend to know exactly where the camera is and how to time their smiles. Get your head back in the boat and look dreadful like the rest of us, for god’s sake.

4. The concerned

Whether they’re worried about the way their race is going, or pondering whether Kant’s categorical imperatives really can be applied to a world void of an omnipotent god, the outcome is the same. A perfect mix of confusion and anxiety.

5. The composed

We don’t know how they do it, but, much to the annoyance of other boaties, these pain-faces manage to show no pain at all. Calm and collected, it is natural to question whether they are actually hurting at all. I dare you to ask them.

6. The bored

This can apply to both rowers and coxes. Understandable really. Ooh, we’re in a boat. Exciting.

7. The tearful

It’s just too much. Why am I in a boat? Why am I hurting? Why did I agree to this? A pain-face that says ‘please make it stop’ better than grunts ever could.

8. The damned

They say the rower gives 84% of his body’s muscles to rowing; these boaties give their souls as well.

9. The accessorised

Fashion first lads. Rule one of rowing. Everybody knows that.

10. The (misguided) fashionista

Talking of fashion. This one isn’t really a pain face, but I thought I’d use this platform to broadcast a Public Service Announcement: JUST BECAUSE IT’S STASH THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT COOL.


Now, as a reward for sitting through an entire article about rowing, here’s a picture of a happy dog:

So there you have it. Now, when you’re trapped in a buttery queue with a boatie, you have something you can talk about. And make sure to point and laugh at all the pain-faces in their upcoming Facebook photos.

Because we all know rowers don’t take this stuff seriously.