031 | What Not to Wear (Coxswain Edition)
Rowing is an outdoor water sport. If we’re distracted by what we’re wearing (or not wearing) on the water, we can’t effectively do our jobs as coxswains. Outfitting yourself for coxing doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money; there are cheap and even free ways to build up your coxing wardrobe, which your CoxPod hosts Sally, Breana, and Anne will discuss below. A helpful piece of advice Breana received early in her coxing career was to not spend money on this sport until you’re sure that you like it.
(Some links in this article are affiliate links – as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)
What Not to Wear
Early in her coxing career, Sally learned the hard way not to use a thrifted hot water bottle to keep herself warm in the boat. It was a great idea until the hot water bottle broke, spilling water all over her that then froze in the cold temperatures.
Breana was fortunate to learn vicariously that you shouldn’t wear the coxing headset without a hat, unless you want to come back from a sunny spring break training trip with a ridiculous forehead tan.
Anne learned that when she was coxing a bowloader, she needed to wear footwear that was firmly affixed to her feet, or else she’d be going on an unpleasant diving trip deep inside the bow to retrieve a lost shoe.
Remember that anything you bring out on the water could get torn, stained, or even lost. This means you shouldn’t bring your all-time favorite items of clothing or jewelry into the boat unless you’re prepared for them to be permanently ruined or lost to the bottom of your body of water. Anne also advises against wearing stud earrings, which can cause damage in the event of a head impact.
Our Coxing Attire Game-Changers
Sally’s coxing career was transformed by the discovery of survival suits, which changed the game in terms of keeping her warm. These also have flotation properties that can keep you afloat if you end up in the water. If you don’t fit in the coxswain seat with one of these on, they can be great for riding in the launch, or even for grocery shopping in frigid weather—Sally has done so herself! Breana recommends this survival suit from Regatta Northwest.
Breana coxes in a warm and sunny place where polarized sunglasses (affiliate link) have come in handy for reducing the glare that reflects off the water when the sun is shining. She also recently discovered a hack for applying sunscreen to your eyes without that awful stinging sensation. This tip was shared by Lab Muffin Beauty Science, a YouTube channel created by an Australian chemistry PhD and cosmetic chemist. Michelle shared on her channel that you can use stick sunscreen around your eyes, as the different formulation of that product makes it less likely to get in your eyes when you sweat. Breana tried out this stick sunscreen (affiliate link) for protecting the skin around her eyes, and has found it to be a total gamechanger. This 2017 scientific paper demonstrated that people generally neglect their eyes when applying sunscreen, so don’t forget about this important area!
Anne spends a lot of time coxing bowloaders, and waterproof pants (affiliate link) have been a game-changer for keeping her dry. Even when it’s warm out, she’s also found that wearing long pants is helpful for sliding into the coxswain seat of bowloaded shells.
Our Daily Drivers
Breana can always be found in a Headsweat cap and polarized sunglasses with a strap that keeps them attached to her head (affiliate links). She learned her lesson after losing several pairs of sunglasses to the bottom of the river in her first years of coxing.
Anne can always be found with her watch. As a hack to help herself remember to always bring it with her on the water, she attaches it to her shoe. This is the waterproof sport watch (affiliate link) that Breana is currently using; she’s found many of her previous coxing watches in the clearance section at stores like Target.
Sally is superstitious and is always coxing in her lucky hat, which she believes imbues her with "grace, grit, and magic powers she wouldn’t have otherwise."
Coxing Attire Decision Making
Before a coxing outing, check the weather to guide your decision making about what to wear. No matter what, leave the denim jeans and cotton hoodies at home. These fabrics will make you absolutely miserable if (when!) they get wet.
If you happen to know this information in advance, consider what type of boat you’ll be in: you might make different clothing choices for sternloaders versus bowloaders. Similarly, consider whether you’ll be launching off a dock or wet launching. You might also wear different clothing at a practice versus at a regatta, perhaps choosing to pare down your clothing on regatta day.
Coxing in the Cold
Beware that some items of clothing that keep us warm can also pose a safety issue if they become waterlogged, weighing us down if we end up in the water. For your footwear, consider a lightweight option like wool socks (affiliate link) rather than large clunky boots.
Make sure to layer up! As you do so, one hack you can employ is to alternate your top and bottom layers: pull your first pair of pants up, then pull your first shirt down over top of that, then your next layer of pants on top of the first shirt, etc. This works great for when you’re sitting in a sternloaded shell and holding yourself in the proper position for coxing, which can often leave the skin on your back exposed.
It’s important to keep your neck warm, but don’t make Breana’s mistake of wearing a wraparound rectangular scarf that could unfurl and blow away while you’re in the boat. Instead, something like a fleece neck gaiter is a great option.
It can be hard to find gloves that keep you warm but still give you the dexterity needed to hold the steering cables and work your electronic coxing equipment. Sally uses thin gloves and a rechargeable hand warmer (affiliate link).
Coxing in the Heat
Any time you have exposed skin and are going to be outdoors, you should apply sunscreen (affiliate link). In rowing we’re in an environment where the sun can reflect off the water and hit us from all angles, so don’t forget key areas like the underside of your nose and the tops of your feet. Make sure to protect your lips with an SPF chapstick (affiliate link), and try out the tip shared above of using stick sunscreen (affiliate link) to protect the skin around your eyes without painful stinging. If you’re taking any medications, check whether they may affect the UV sensitivity of your skin.
Protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses (affiliate link). One of the authors of The Short and Snarky Guide to Coxing and Rowing (affiliate link) shares in her book that she caused permanent damage to her eyes from years of coxing without proper eye protection. Keep your sunglasses from becoming an offering to the river nymphs by using a simple strap (affiliate link) to keep them attached.
Another key element of sun protection is a hat. In Breana’s experience, the brand Headsweats (affiliate link) fits small heads well and wicks moisture away. These hats are lightweight and a much more pleasant experience to wear than a twill baseball cap, which is absolutely gross when it gets wet from sweat or splashes in the boat.
It may seem counterintuitive to cover more of your skin in the heat, but lightweight long-sleeve shirts can offer fantastic sun protection. Look for one with a UPF rating that is specifically designed for this: Sally endorses Columbia, and Breana recently bought this UPF shirt from USRowing, which kept her sunburn-free while volunteering for many hours at a regatta. There are also cheaper alternatives on sites like Amazon (affiliate link).
For many years, Breana wore the cheapest flip-flops she could find on sale at big box stores. She has since upgraded to these sandals (affiliate link) from Crocs and won’t go back! Make sure that any shoes you wear have appropriate tread; if you’re starting to slip and slide on the dock, it’s time to replace them.
Keep yourself cool with an item like a cooling towel (affiliate link). For a budget version, buy a pack of cheap washcloths (affiliate link), get them wet, and freeze them. A rower that Anne knows swears by a strategy of rowing with small ice packs (affiliate link) in her bra.
Coxing in the Rain
Have we said it already? Don’t wear denim or cotton. When these fabrics get wet from rain or even normal splashing in the boat, they’ll leave you miserable and sometimes even dangerously cold.
When there’s a threat of rain, Anne always makes sure to bring extra clothes and a trash bag. This strategy prevents you from damaging any of your other possessions or any vehicles you might be traveling in as you leave practice/regattas. Just make sure to extract your wet clothes from that bag ASAP so that they can dry out and don’t start to smell.
In the episode, Anne shared that she was looking for a wide-brimmed waterproof hat to keep her neck protected during the rain. Since recording the episode, she purchased this one (affiliate link)!
If you’re buying a waterproof jacket, consider a high-visibility color like this one. These colors really do enhance your visibility, which is especially a plus if you’re coxing a sternloaded shell at dusk or dawn.
Our Coxing Attire Hacks
If your shoes have ever gotten waterlogged from a wake crashing over the dock or the hull, you’ve likely experienced the struggle of trying to get them to smell normal again. Breana recommends this DIY shoe deodorizer recipe from Clean My Space.
Sally advises that you should always expect it to be colder than it is. You can’t use what rowers are wearing as a gauge for how to dress in a given day because they’re engaging in physical activity while out on the water, whereas coxswains are not.
All three CoxPod hosts corroborate that zippered pockets are one of the best things you can have on any clothing item that you’re wearing out on the water.
Building a Coxing Wardrobe on a Budget
Completely free ways to build your coxing wardrobe include through hand-me-downs, found items, and gifts. If you have an outdoorsy friend or family member who has upgraded their gear or who no longer participates in an activity, see if they have any items they’d like to hand down to you. Similarly, if you know someone who is graduating from your team or who has quit the sport, ask whether they’d pass any of their coxing attire down to you. You can also be on the lookout for items that others have left behind and never claimed. For example, take a look at the lost and found at your boathouse and if you notice an item that sits there unclaimed for weeks, its original owner obviously doesn’t miss it. Lastly, if you have a birthday, holiday, or other gift-giving event coming up, consider asking for an item of coxing-related attire that you want or need. We have an entire coxswain gift guide for this purpose!
For cheap options, scope out thrift stores/charity shops and local garage/yard sales.
At the mid-range price tier, check out discount stores like TJ/TK Maxx, Ross, or Marshalls. You can scope out the clearance sections of these stores to keep your purchases as cost-effective as possible. In the online space, you can search for secondhand clothing on sites like Poshmark, Depop, thredUP, and Mercari. These sites are especially useful for purchasing items that you already own and would like to duplicate to expand your coxing wardrobe; be sure to check the site’s policies first, as some don’t allow returns.
At the high-end price tier, there are specialized athletic brands like Columbia and Patagonia. These can be great options, but remember our earlier advisories: anything you wear on the water can get irreparably damaged, and you shouldn’t spend a ton of money on this sport until you’re sure that you like it.
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00:46 Why you should care about this episode
01:34 Our "what not to wear" stories
04:25 Coxing gear doesn’t need to be expensive
06:09 Safety and functionality are our priorities with clothing
09:17 Our coxing attire game-changers
12:40 Factors that guide our coxing attire decisions
15:32 Our everyday apparel items
18:08 What to wear in the cold
23:56 What to wear in the heat
31:36 What to wear in the rain
33:21 Our coxing attire wishlists
36:21 Breaking our own rules
39:26 Our coxing attire hacks
43:58 Problems we still need solutions for
45:34 Building your coxing wardrobe on a budget
50:04 Episode recap