When something new or shiny appears at my club or at a regatta, I’m one of the first to poke my nose in to have a closer look. The new pair of Concept2 Comp sculling blades that appeared were certainly no exception. After quickly discovering that these were a demonstration set, I got in touch with C2 UK to get permission to row them.
This isn’t going to be a scientific piece that you might find at Biorow.com so I should introduce myself a bit. As a master’s rower who has been on the water for over 35 years, I’m old enough to have learned on timber macons and young enough to have raced just about every oar style and brand there is. I was never an elite oarsman, but I’ve won enough medals and mugs over the years to fill many a shoebox. I’ve also coached for 30 years, many of those with a Rowing Australia L2 qualification and also as a presenter of the Australian courses.
The only blade styles I have never sculled with are the Concept2 Fat and the teardrop Dreher styles (APEX-R, ER, ERX etc). Although I am an Australian have have had a little bit of a bias towards the Croker products, my current personal oars are the Dreher EA. After many years of using the sole lonely set of Dreher Apex sculls at my then club I was keen to buy a set of those, but it was suggested that the newer EA would suit my needs. When I’m out in the club quads we have sets of C2 Smoothie 2, C2 Vortex, and Crokers.
Having never experienced the C2 Fat blade, I was relying on the official ‘spiel’ of more load/lock at the front, and the Comp being an evolution of this. To be honest the Comp does look a bit like the Fat blade with the horizontal scale squished by 20 percent! To test this I was going to do a series of short sprint pieces that had varied rowing styles – from a very front heavy power curve, a fairly consistent one, and finally a finish heavy style. I was using my NK SpeedCoach GPS unit to measure the boat speed and metres per stroke. Sadly I do not have access to a Peach system or Empower oarlock (and let’s forget how much money I put into the Oar Inspired Kickstarter that I’m not likely to see again…). I did not try to test the blades in a bigger boat (2x, 4x) because it’s pretty difficult to gain any meaningful insight with all the ‘noise’ of the rest of the crew, although timed testing pieces with a bigger boat would be valid.
The first row got off to a great start. To be honest I was very impressed even with the few initial strokes I took getting away from the dock and straightening up the boat. Many blades can wander a bit at a low pressure (rowing very lightly from a standstill or just after you’ve finished a hard/fast piece and ‘row light’) and seem to hunt a bit for their pitch or height. Experience overcomes this with other oars, but the Comp seemed to find it’s place right away and was confident in my hand. The warm up row was lovely and nothing obvious bothered me.
The first series of test pieces made it clear that the Comp blade really did lock on and load up well at the front end of the stroke. Even when I was trying to emphasise the back end of the stroke the front end still felt ‘on’ and I had to experiment a bit to ensure that I was actually doing the finish heavy power curve that I had intended.
Switching to my personal Dreher EA oars I repeated the same exercises. The EA is a confident blade to row when it has a bit of positive pressure on the face, but can search a bit for it’s height in the water when rowing light. When repeating the three different styles I could match boat speed with a consistent power application, was a bit slower with a finish weighted style, and although I could match the speed with a front loaded stroke I found that I totally blew up doing this. The first few strokes building up speed felt the same, but as I tried to maintain the pace for 20-30 strokes my legs and lungs were working much harder than with the Comp blade. I managed to replicate this on different days. I also did a couple of fun experiments like rowing with one oar from each set – something I’m surprised I’d never tried before!
The blade area comparison is also interesting. I don’t have the detailed C2 figures, but with the data on the Dreher website and a quick look at some photos you can quickly get a rough idea. My personal Dreher blades are listed at 816cm2 and my old favourite Dreher Apex is 818cm2. A quick guess would say that the C2 Smoothie would be about the same size. The Comp is almost identical looking as the Apex-R, which is listed on the Dreher website as being 740cm2. That is a reduction of about 60cm2 per blade, or approximately 10%, from a ‘normal’ cleaver blade. For another interesting comparison the old Dreher macon blade is listed at 747cm2, not too far off the Comp.
From this limited personal testing I would say that the Comp does exactly what Concept2 claims. It is confident and efficient at the front of the stroke, then has a fast swing through towards the finish. It would be interesting to see how well this would perform in a quad scull which would likely benefit even more from this than a 1x.
The only negative feedback I have heard at my club from the few rowers who have trialed the Comp is about the extra depth of the blade. Two experienced Thames Tideway oarsman struggled with the bottom edge in rough waters, which mirrored the issues that they’d each experienced with the Fat blade and that one of them had experienced with a pair of Dreher Apex-R teardrop blades (which are very close in overall shape/area to the Comp). Since most people don’t row on the Tideway or want to train in poor conditions, this may not be a real issue for many rowers. Aside from this, the only issue I can anticipate with this new blade is simply gaining acceptance at clubs. Most clubs are quite conservative with equipment purchases and maintaining very uniform sets of oars is quite normal. Getting someone to take an initial risk to buy a few pairs of any new design is always difficult, but in this case I hope it happens.
As for me, I can say that if I was buying oars tomorrow I would get a pair of the Comp blades. Maybe I save up and get some next year…
Many thanks to Rob at Concept2 UK for permission to use the demonstration set.
If you are keen to do some further reading, please check out Dr Valery Kleshnev’s fantastic Biorow website which has two articles that examine the Comp blade.