Every day, Tjebbe Ruijgh would watch scores of kids in red T-shirts hoist long, slim, cigar-shaped boats onto their shoulders, carry them to the water at Centerport's Fleets Cove Beach and, in groups of four or eight, row in choreographed unison into the harbor.
"I live right here next to the beach," says Ruijgh, who goes by T.J. for short. When he tired of playing goalie for a lacrosse team -- it hurt to have balls whipped at him, he says -- he joined the kids in Long Island Rowing Club's crew program.
"I decided I'm going to start inflicting pain on myself," he jokes. Now, the 16-year-old Harborfields High School junior rides his skateboard to the beach daily.
CHOOSE YOUR LEVEL
Members can opt to row competitively and attend regattas with the club's varsity team or be part of the recreational program, attending sessions as often or as little as they like, says Northport resident Brian Giehl, 36, club president. The varsity team already has been selected for this fall season, but the recreational program is taking fall sign-ups through Saturday.
About 75 kids, ages 12 to 19, are split 50-50 between recreational and competitive and come from about 15 middle and high schools, Giehl says.
"Some are here for fun, some are here for competition, some found a new sport, some are here because their parents make them do something after school," Giehl says. They're grouped by skill level and age, and they row in boats of eight, four, two or one. The flexible recreational schedule allows kids to be in school band or chorus or other extracurricular activities while still participating in a sport, Giehl says.
NEWBIES HAVE FUN
Charly Solomon, 15, a junior at Commack High School, was out for the first time earlier this month. "My mom heard about it from another girl's parents," she says. "It's just enjoyable to be out on the water and get some fresh air."
The rowing is lighthearted when the newcomers make mistakes, says Zeke Horton, 14, a freshman at Northport High School. "It was not easy for the first couple of days," he says. "It was hard to coordinate with other people."
In a boat with eight rowers, each person has one oar jutting into either the starboard (right) or port (left) side of the boat. Rowers are rowing backward -- a coxswain faces them and barks orders about whose oars should be in the water when. It's challenging to get into the rhythm and not splash other people or mistime your stroke. "It was fun," Horton says.
Rowers learn form and technique that involves pushing off with their legs as well as rowing with their arms, says Odane Lewis, 22, a senior on the crew team at Dowling College who coaches the club's novices. "People normally think rowers have big arms, but the legs are more important," Lewis says.
IN THE GROOVE
Jeffrey McLuckie, 17, is a senior at Elwood's John Glenn High School; this is his sixth year with the club. He rows for the competitive program, coached by former German National Team Rower Anika Selle, who is married to club president Giehl.
"They may not get a full athletic scholarship," Giehl says, "but it can help them get into a school." That's even true for recreational rowers, Giehl says. "It complements their other activities."
LONG ISLAND ROWING CLUB
WHEN/WHERE 4 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays at Fleets Cove Beach, 293 Fleets Cove Rd., Centerport
INFO $650 for fall recreational season, which lasts through Nov. 16; must sign up by Saturday; 631-991-2739, lirowing.org
ANOTHER CREW OPTION
It welcomes interested middle and high school students, but offers only a competitive program in the fall requiring six practices a week and participation in regattas.
Cost is $750 per season; rowers can still sign up for fall, no experience necessary to join. Call 516-810-1490, sagamorerowing.org