While the rest of the world is just waking up, the members of Boulder Community Rowing are finishing up a hard workout in their boats at the Boulder Reservoir.
By the time they're off the water, around 7 most weekday mornings, they've already been awake and sweating for several hours, watching the sun and several hot air balloons rise over the flat water at the reservoir.
University of Colorado graduate student Ben Hudson said he loves getting out on reservoir's flat water early in the morning and looking out at the Flatirons. Hudson grew up in Seattle, so he takes any chance he can get to be out on a body of water, he said.
Hudson started rowing at age 14 and went on to row at Brown University. Once he graduated from college and stopped rowing full time, he noticed that his overall fitness level plummeted, and he missed that.
"Honestly rowing was such a good base of fitness for me that I kind of missed having that base to then go out and do whatever I wanted," Hudson, 28, said. "In high school I would do stuff like decide to run a half marathon without training for it because of the fitness rowing had given me."
Hudson joined Boulder Community Rowing in May. The group, which formed in 2000, is a hub for competitive, recreational and brand-new rowers in the Boulder area. The group organizes classes and provides training for new rowers and sends teams to prestigious competitions around the country.
In October, for example, several boats from Boulder will travel to Oklahoma City for the Head of the Oklahoma regatta, and Boston for the Head of the Charles regatta. The group practices at the Boulder Reservoir until the water freezes. They row indoors on rowing machines during the winter before heading back outside in the spring.
Boulder Community Rowing has about 60 active adult members, plus 25 junior or high school-aged rowers. Members pay yearly dues and get access to the reservoir and the group's boats as well as coaching and training programs. Being able to share boats is one of the club's biggest perks — a racing single, or boat for one rower, can cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Each pair of oars runs around $400, according to the club's president Ted Noyes.
But the social aspect of the club is a huge draw, too.
For Otto Stegmaier, who only moved to Boulder at the beginning of August, the club's been extremely welcoming, he said, and a good way to meet people.
"A lot of times in this sport you have to know people to start," he said. "It's something of an old boy's club. If you go out east and try to join a random club, they'd ask who you know or where you rowed in college. (Boulder Community Rowing members) have been really, really friendly and welcoming."
Stegmaier, 27, rowed at Harvard University from 2004 to 2008, and then joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduation. He hadn't touched an oar for four years until earlier this year, he said, and rowing has helped him recover from a rock climbing ankle injury.
Going with the flow
The main reason club members — and most rowers across the country — practice so early in the morning is to practice on the flattest water possible. There usually aren't other boats on the water at that time, and the weather is reliably good around 5 a.m., said club president Noyes. Most of the club's members don't mind waking up before dawn, he added.
"Once you get in the routine of getting up a 4:30 four or five days a week, pretty soon you'll find yourself going to bed a little earlier than you used to, and sleeping in means 6:30 or 7:30," he said.
According to Stegmaier, who recently returned to rowing, the best part about rowing is that the sport doesn't reward genetics or general athleticism — it rewards hard work and the willingness to suffer.
"It's really a measure of how much you're willing to try," Stegmaier said. "It's satisfying because it's really hard work. It's not fun. It's not a game."
Many rowers from the club talked about the "flow" they feel when their strokes align perfectly with other rowers in the boat and rowing feels effortless, almost like flying over the water. It's meditation and "gut-busting" hard work all wrapped into one sport, Noyes said.
For Stegmaier, that flow is what keeps him coming back to the water, morning after morning. As a skier, given the choice between a powder day in the backcountry and a great morning of rowing, Stegmaier said he'd pick the row, every time.
"Personally, there's not a lot better than that," he said. "I'd still rate a really great row over a really great powder day."
Contact Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org