Venetian Rowing – la Voga alla Veneta
Most tourists get the impression that they are simply poled through the channels of the city as it is the case on the river Cam flowing through world-famous Cambridge, for example. The waters of the Canal Grande, however, are too deep to allow the use of such a technique.
Again: Venetians row standing upright. This is not a simple technique but once you get the hang of it you are in for a lot of fun. There are also many advantages to that way of rowing. You actually see where you are going and are quite flexible in your handling of the boat. Irrespective of the environment you are always able to manoeuvre your boat, be it in narrow channels, on dead water or even offshore. A lot of different types of boats are in use, depending on what they are used for instance transportation of goods and people or sport or simply for recreational trips. It is not unusual for Venetians to meet up for a giro vogando with friends.
In order to row, you have to stand facing forward and operate the oar, which is attached to an loose support called the forcola. At first this is not an easy task to handle for beginners since you have to keep your own balance and at the same time carry out a particular “stirring” movement with the oar.. This is necessary to stop the oar from slipping out of the forcola. Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Don’t panic, everyone can learn how to do it. It used to be the natural way of getting around for all Venetians, after all.
What I found especially fascinating about the voga alla veneta is the fact that your feet are actually on a level with the water surface wile you are rowing through the lagoon. In order not to lose balance you have to tune in to the rhythm of the waves as well as the movement of the boat, learn how to counterbalance and avoid any hasty, abrupt movements. By and by this skill will evolve and you will get to know not only yourself but also the water in a unique way. The only real obstacle is your fear as you can only move with required ease if you are relaxed. It’s like learning how to ride a bicycle: in the beginning it seems awkward and difficult, but once mastered it becomes a natural skill and a part of yourself.
There are also other insights and experiences to be gained once one has become secure enough to concentrate on the surroundings. Cruising in the lagoon, you cannot avoid learning and experiencing it as an intriguing part of nature full of sensations. Birds fly overhead, fish jump up out of the water and in shallow waters you can even see mussels and crabs. In short, the lagoon is teeming with life waiting to be discovered up close.
If you have a go at this kind of rowing, you will be able understand a vital aspect of Venetian culture. Suddenly you can feel and understand on a direct, sensational level, how it must have been like to live in a city which had to be supplied by rowboats for centuries and in which the primary way of getting anywhere was to row and not to walk. After a few training sessions you get a whole new perspective on the gondolieri and their work when you watch them from one of the city’s beautiful bridges.
From a recreational sportive point of view voga alla veneta can be classified as an endurance sport involving the whole body. On regattas these boats are rowed quite fast on short and middle distances.