Main piece: There’s this thing called a “coxswain toss” where after you’ve won a big race, and only after you’ve won a significant race, the rowers will gather around, chase the coxswain down, grab her by the arms and legs (usually it’s a girl but sometimes it’s a guy – usually it’s a girl because of weight, coxswains need to be lighter) but they’ll grab your arms and your legs and toss you into the water.
Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years.
Context: I asked KP if her team has any “lucky” objects or superstitions they do/interact with before competitions. She also said that what constitutes a “big race” is dependent on the team (“for Ohio, it would be NCAAs… it’s almost expected that we win Big 10s or if we lose it’s very sad, and it really depends on the team.”) She also said that the ritual isn’t always enforced due to the contamination of the water. If the water is toxic or has sea life that could potentially harm the coxswain, the ritual is not practiced (“I wasn’t tossed in at all in Baltimore, because if you’re tossed in in Baltimore, you have to take a shower immediately after. Also there were jellyfish and sharks so that’s not great”). However, as a coxswain herself, she doesn’t mind being thrown in the water if able; she prefaced her explanation with “because, you know, we’ve been yelling at them all season and stuff”, and believes it’s a fun and harmless way to let the rowers celebrate their win.
Analysis: This ritual is a way of changing the power dynamic that usually occurs in a boat. The coxswain is in charge of the rowers during practices and competitions, and their entire job consists of yelling at the rowers and telling them what to do. In victory, proving that the rowers have been listening to the coxswain and working hard to win, the rowers “get revenge” and turn the tables by throwing the coxswain into the water. Also it reinforces that while the power dynamic of the sport places the coxswain in charge, the coxswain is always the smallest member on the team, especially in competitive rowing, and therefore easy to physically overpower by the much larger rowers. In a way, this also reinforces the trust the rowers have for the coxswain and their willingness to cede control to them because they know that this will lead them to victory.