The small waves slide across the dock, blurring the line between shore and ocean. 8 pairs of feet are submerged together, sneakers now soggy. A white, skinny boat is outstretched overhead before it is swung down to broad, muscled shoulders; past tall legs, finally lowering in a gentle caress to the water. 8 giant oars, carried by 4 people, are acquired. Grippy plastic handles meet the slick tan dock, and we’re ready. One small figure commands the 8 athletes, and they enter the boat as one, calculated and practiced, the same as every evening. And, finally, the boat abandons the simple stability of the dock. Rowers softly woosh up the slide, dropping blades with a soft plop, then slam their legs down, pushing us forwards. Evergreen trees surround shining water, glistening against the sun. 8 rowers as one, movements calculated exactly together, from the moment they start up the slide to the end of the stroke. The marina smell fills our noses. We are home.
Rowing is a home I never imagined I’d find. An old metal building in Swantown Marina. We don’t have a single house, though, we are portable through an equally old rickety trailer. Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, Bainbridge, Vashon; we glide over rivers, lakes, oceans, any water large enough to hold us. And we call it home.
The family that inhabits our varying residences fills them to make home. Maddie greeted me with a warm hug every practice. Hannah always had her small smile, ready to take my commands. Grace always has my back; her grit and iron will make her the most dedicated person I know. She’s always prepared to shield me from the icy water in her arms, carrying me above the menacing waves to my seat. My pocket is filled with gummy bears, for a diabetic rower with a love for lobsters. And my heart is filled with my family swarming around me, carrying oars, playing cards, rigging boats, and swinging hammocks. My home is defined by these small interactions, the knowledge that Ruby will have two seat pads outstretched the second I say it’s time to launch, an apologetic look already on her face.
Not even those are the sole reasons that salty smell washing over me signals a sense of overwhelming safety and calm. The sight of Richard, imposing yet safe, signals I’ve made it. His voice, loud without trying, fills my ears as I go by, and I know I’ll hear a lot more of it made slightly scratchy by his megaphone. A comforting voice, a word of praise, somebody I can always look to, the coaches make this home. They keep us together, like grandparents, solving squabbles and giving words of wisdom. They always support what we do with a smile, and they reward us with treats when we’ve been good. Chocolate milk and bananas after a hard practice are what make the industrial racks towering over me and the slick concrete floors my home.