‘It’s just idyllic’: Great Salt Lake Rowing Club plows ahead, despite low water levels

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This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late . Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org

GREAT SALT LAKE— It may not be the first spot that comes to mind when you think of popular recreation spots in Utah, but one enthusiastic group is working to change that perception.

Driving down to the Great Salt Lake Marina, one thing is evident: It’s empty. Due to low water levels, a line of sailboats sits idle in the parking lot — but the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club is far from giving up their favorite spot.

For Diane Horrocks, the group’s president, rowing on the lake has become a way of life — one that first began decades ago.

“I went to a girls’ school,” she said, speaking of her younger years growing up in England. “One of my first best friends said ‘Hey, if you come down to the rowing club, there’s boys there.'”

Years later, and after moving to the US, she’s teaching newbies as part of “National Learn to Row Day.”

“Just to get people to realize that there’s rowing in Utah,” Horrocks said. “Because we’re a landlocked state, we’re a semi-desert, people are amazed.”

Great Salt Lake Rowing Club on the lake.
Great Salt Lake Rowing Club on the lake. (Photo: Ray Boone, KSL-TV)

Attendees begin by working on a rowing machine, then strapping in their feet and getting started on a grounded boat. Many came out of a sense of curiosity.

“I came out here because my friend invited me,” said Sarah Wills. “I like to try new things. I lived on a lake before, so I’ve been around the water, but I’ve never tried rowing.”

While everyone has their reasons, for many, just getting past the thought of the lake as “gross” is the biggest hurdle.

“For about one month a year, it’s smelly,” Horrocks said. “But the rest of the year, it is magnificent. We row in the winter on Saturday mornings, and it is like rowing on glass. It’s just idyllic.”

But Horrocks says one of the biggest reasons many join their club is because rowing is easy on the joints.

“We have people who used to play sports and got injured,” she said. One of our members is in her 70s, so you can do it for as long as you like. There’s competitions, world rowing championships, they have an 80-plus category.”

Great Salt Lake Rowing Club getting ready to push off.
Great Salt Lake Rowing Club getting ready to push off. (Photo: Ray Boone, KSL-TV)

It may be easy on the joints, but it’s definitely not easy. Wills can attest to that, after trying her hand on the water.

“It’s hard,” she said with a laugh. “It’s really hard. I feel like it’s the most coordinated sport I’ve ever tried.”

The low water levels in the lake have presented some challenges, mainly in the way of a landlocked dock and needing to navigate a narrow channel to get out of the marina.

“There’s a couple of 90-degree bends that you have to go very slow and careful because it’s so narrow now,” she said. “A rowing boat has a very shallow draft, like 6 to 12 inches. Unlike the poor sailboats that have all had to be pulled out, we’re still good. We should be good, even if we lose a little bit more, but we need more water.”

Because to Horrocks and her club, it’s not just about enjoying the lake itself — it’s about getting others to get the same feeling they have once they get out on the open water.

“We got people to appreciate the serenity of the lake,” Horrocks said. “Last year was a record high, we had 50 members. This year, we’re already at 37.”

So whether it’s because of injury, wanting to try something new, or just to see what the lake is really like, everyone has their reasons for paying a visit to Utah’s hidden rowing club. And even if you only started rowing to meet boys, it all pays off in the end.

“Once I was a grown-up, I actually met my husband at the rowing club,” Horrocks said.

Members get access to the Great Salt Lake Rowing Club’s boats, meaning there’s no need to buy your own. If you’d like to sign up for lessons, you can find the club on Facebook, or go to its website, GLSR.org.

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