Adaptive Rowing Technology & Fixed Seat Rigging 2021

summarized by David DeWinter
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Tom West – Para High Performance Group Coach, CRI

The 3-Sentence Summary

Coaching competitive para-rowing requires an innovative mindset because rowers need to row in different boats and seats throughout the season, and every rower’s boat setup is unique. Building technology to support every rower’s unique rig is a challenge on your own, so the para-rowing community needs to band together to spread knowledge and build solutions together. While general rigging principles from full-slide rowing cannot always be applied to para-rowing, rowing instrumentation systems like the Peach PowerLine and the NK Empower Oarlock can still reveal insights that lead to speed breakthroughs.


Technology and Equipment

1:38 Talk will focus on the unique challenges of technology and equipment for competitive para-rowing.

2:29 Competitive para rigging focuses on customization per athlete, which diverges from rigging for general para-rowing.

3:24 Technology and Equipment for Para

  • Contact Points: Help rowers feel the “right kind of pain,” (e.g. rowing pain, 3rd 500 pain, not chafing or injury pain)
  • Rigging
  • Instrumentation (NK Empower, Peach)
  • Video

5:05 Para athletes are often used to equipment not working for their needs, so it takes longer than normal to identify and define issues.

Contact Points

5:29 Contact point example: limited ankle flexibility causes discomfort in the toe bend at the catch with a loss of 25+ degrees of flexibility compared to a “typical” ankle.

8:14 The Shimano Pivot System adds back around 30 degrees of flexibility to help the athlete feel better. Toes no longer need to bend so much to compensate.

9:20 It’s easy to install for yourself, but it’s not easy for daily lineup changes. Solution: build an adapter so the Shimano system can fit into the BAT Logic QuickRelease system.

10:37 Easier to make customizations on the erg first to test that it works in a controlled environment. It can take a long time for an athlete to get used to it.

12:31 Challenge: building oar grips for a rower with peripheral neuropathy, where he needed his thumbs to help with grip. Look to other sports for inspiration on shape and material, and then customize for rowers.

15:18 Tom’s not doing much more with the project now. If you’re interested, contact him! (See 28:28 for contact info.)

15:48 Fixed seat attachments are a challenge to plug and play between different boats. Still an unsolved problem. If you are interested in working on this, contact Tom. (See 28:28 for contact info.)


18:20 Rigging for para is different from rigging for racing shells:

  • Hulls are wider and shallower.
  • Boats are slower, but they don’t feel as heavy because the hull speed does not vary as much as full-slide shells and the catch angles are not as steep.
  • The hull speed varies less because rowers don’t travel up and down the slide as much and the stroke rate is generally higher.

21:19 Should we have the same catch angle as in full-slide rowing? Probably not. It’s harder to pull the oar through the perpendicular at those same angles when you don’t have the sliding seat.


23:25 NK and Peach as instrumentation systems. As with any tool, you need to evaluate what you’ll use it for and how it complements your program. Don’t record a bunch of data and then look for something aimlessly. You’ll get lost in the rabbit hole.

24:43 Take note of how many bad strokes you see. Going faster is as much about eliminating the bad as it is improving the good.

25:19 Check out the manufacturer’s website for use cases. NK Empower

26:15 Not all athletes will react to optimizing numbers in the same way.

27:04 The Peach PowerLine is very powerful but has a steep learning curve. It requires a lot of time to make a solid connection between the data, what the coach coaches, and what the athlete feels on the water. Do you have the time as a coach?


28:28 Contact info for Tom

29:09 Tip: get to the boathouse early and see how your para-athletes get there. It can inform their setup.


29:52 What technology resonated most with the USA PR3 4+?

  1. Using Peach, you can check the power curve at the first part of the drive against the speed of the handle. If the handle was moving without an increase in power, something wasn’t right.
  2. The best trick on video is to shoot 60fps. How many frames does it take to go from full reach to fully buried? A world-class catch is 4 frames; a club catch is 6 frames, and a problematic catch is 8+ frames.
  3. NK showed on a sprint that different athletes approached the sprint differently. Some tried to lengthen their stroke and some tried to shorten their stroke.

34:04 What approach do you take to rigging a boat for a new PR2 rower?

Have a special session where you get it right; don’t expect it to take 15 minutes while you’re getting everyone else ready.

Ideal: A starting point for rigging given an erg score, work distance, and skill level. Today we try to find similar rowers and use their rig as a starting point.

37:01 Do you see trends in rigging for para athletes?

The last survey still showed a lot of variations. It will require more analysis.

39:42 What’s been the most challenging part of working on para rigging?

The seats, especially fixed seat adapters. Seats are individual.

42:23 Any other wisdom you’d like to share?

AZEK is a great weather-resistant material that holds a thread. Pig putty (epoxy putty) is a great product for getting two odd-shaped things to stick together.

43:39 Whitewater kayakers custom cut foam to give them more control in the kayak–the same foam can be used in para-rowing under the knees.

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