Dangerous rowing shoes?

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Steve Schaffran

Dec 15, 2021, 7:10:32 PM12/15/21
There seems to be a new trend in rowing shoes that is a (very) mixed blessing. On the good side they grip the foot very well, especially the heel. On the bad side, the heel grip is so strong the rower risks not being able to release after a capsize.
This happened recently with a sculler who had launched from the San Diego Rowing Club. He capsized and was not able to get his feet out of the shoes. A passing launch rescued him.
In this case, they were Bont "Project B" shoes, similar to the those that are now standard with all Fluidesign and Hudson shells. The extenuating circumstance was the heels had not been tied down.
My partner and I installed Bont shoes about six months ago in our Filippi double. While they feel great, we noticed the difficulty of extracting our feet from the very snug heels. As a precaution, we have tied down the heels as close to the footboard as we can make it. However, since we haven't given it an experimental run through I'm not at all sure I can easily get out of the shoes in the event of a capsize.
According to its website, Bont has been in the shoe business since 1975, starting with shoes for ice speed skaters and moving on with success to shoes for roller and inline skating, bicycling, and then for rowing relatively recently,
I'd guess that in skating and cycling a very tight heel is essential, but I wonder about rowing. If very snug heels were essential or even important to rowing performance we probably would have seen them long ago in the erging environment, where 2k times can determine a scholarship to college or a seat in one's national 8+.
In short, the trade off of very snug heels vs. enhanced risk of drowning is worth attention.


Dec 17, 2021, 4:08:04 PM12/17/21
Steve - if this is indeed the case, the term "trade-off" is meaningless
- unless one takes a Faustian view of rowing safety.

Some rowers seem to have been subtly persuaded by promotional literature
to fetishise their feet, as if what little really happens there has much
if any impact on the real work done by the rest of the body. What
happened to rational thought, or have no enough rowers drowned with
their feet held in shoes in an upturned boat?


Carl Douglas Racing Shells -
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Dec 20, 2021, 5:22:20 PM12/20/21

> In short, the trade off of very snug heels vs. enhanced risk of drowning is worth attention.

I have recently put a pair of Bont shoes in my personal boat (I install many different brands in the boats I work on for others) and haven't had any issues.

However - I was advised to go one size larger than you might otherwise pick if you were choosing shoes for walking/running/cycling. I tried on the same size as my Bont cycling shoes (which was lovely) and then bought one size larger.

This was on the advice of the local Bont agent.

What I appreciate from these newer generation shoes is not the snugness as such, but the stiffness of the shoe. It helps prevent me rolling around on the ball of my foot (or at the ankle) and I feel it makes my catches more stable as I'm rolling up to the front with less movement in the feet (and consequently less knee movement and boat wobble).

Getting the right size is not a failing of the shoe.

To be honest I think a much bigger issue is the method of closing and tightening the newer shoes. Quite a few have more straps or velcro (area) than is necessary and I'm not entirely sold on the idea that any of the BOA dial up systems are needed/safe (although the 'hidden' velcro release on the one brand I've seen up close was very neatly done).

Summary: A snug heel isn't as much of an issue as being strapped in too tightly.


Dec 21, 2021, 2:17:16 PM12/21/21
On Monday, 20 December 2021 at 22:22:20 UTC, Jonny wrote:

> Summary: A snug heel isn't as much of an issue as being strapped in too tightly.

Neither is much of an issue compared with not having a heel restraint. "The extenuating circumstance was the heels had not been tied down."


Dec 23, 2021, 7:23:19 AM12/23/21
I thought "extenuating" a particularly inappropriate word to have
chosen, having as it does these various meanings:
1. serving to reduce the severity of guilt or blameworthiness
2. providing an excuse which lessens the seriousness of something
3. partially excusing or justifying something

With a proper heel cord (2 strands of 4mm braided nylon cord) correctly
installed, & the shoes mounted on a suitably robust stretcher, no fancy,
touch-feely heel-box design in a shoe will prevent safe, passive heel
release. And there's absolutely no excuse for failing to install shoes
in this manner:


James McGowan

Oct 5, 2022, 11:08:12 AMOct 5
Old fashioned clogs are still the most versatile and cost effective as they allow for multiple foot sizes. Also the hard wooden soles definitely do not waist any energy.

If it's your personal racing boat then I can understand mounting correct sized shoes for a little extra comfort.

As for clip in shoes that swivel. this equipment is best for tech wienies. I can think of perhaps one use case where they might be helpful. In the case that you have severely damaged your achilies tendons and have almost no mobility in them. Then perhaps it could be useful to have some ability to swivel the foot. In most cases it seems that simply changing the foot stretcher angle would do the trick and allow the entire foot to keep a steady contact with the footboard at all times.

These complex footstretcher shoe systems remind me of the turtle back waterbottles that are popular among amatuer runners and cyclists. They carry loads of extra water for what usually ammounts to a 20 or 30 minute light workout..but they feel fabulous because they have read a long article about how great the technology is that went into making these devices.


Oct 6, 2022, 5:29:56 PMOct 6
Excellently put, James! We do, of course, provide what the client
requires, & that has included fitting clogs, but we insist on the shoes
being provided with _our own_ regulation heel ties, giving a 50mm
maximum uplift. Messing with rower safety by allowing >50mm heel ties,
ties made from bow-tied shoe-laces, a single cord connecting the heels
of both shoes, etc, is downright dangerous & most certainly is not smart
- but we see altogether too much of it in almost any boathouse.

As for the water obsession and the fixation on hydration - just a useful
fetish for vendors of bottled water and ingenious water bottles. The
human body has considerable tolerance for relative dehydration, and I
believe that the Israeli military have researched this. Years ago, no
one would have though they needed to carry water for a 1-hour training

Cheers -
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