Rowing the Detroit River

The first boat club in North America hosts the oldest continuously operating association.
Detroit Boat Club rowers
Photography by Stop & Stare/David Taylor

Late-day sun painted the MacArthur Bridge from Detroit to Belle Isle in golden tones. The Detroit River was like glass as the setting sun reflected on small surface ripples.

The rowers arrived from all around the metropolitan area, tired from a long day’s work, from a busy summer, from juggling modern responsibilities. But all of that melted away as they chose seats in eight-person hulls and walked as a team to lift the 200-pound crafted boats overhead for placement on the water.

Every summer, 120 adults learn to row at the Detroit Boat Club. Thirty participate in twice-weekly recreational rowing, while another 45 compete in the master’s program. And then there are the middle school and high school students who row during the summer, the high school competitive program and those who take part in the free learn-to-row program provided in partnership with parks and recreation.

“What drew me back was really the sport itself. It is just gorgeous at sunrise, especially when the water’s flat. Some people [say] they get in a Zen state because it’s so rhythmic. That part I loved.”
— Mo Meadows

Rowing is one of the oldest continuous sports in metro Detroit. The Detroit Boat Club was founded in February 1839, the first boat club in North America and one of the oldest continuously operating rowing organizations in the world.

The current boathouse, built in 1902, replicates the aesthetic of a Spanish Gaztelii (Basque for a large, elegant country house). Programs operate today through Friends of Detroit Rowing, whose mission is to educate and promote amateur rowing in metro Detroit.

Mo Meadows started rowing with the very first women’s crew for the club in 1976 and later took her passion for the rhythmic, vigorous sport to Michigan State University, where she joined the competitive team.

As an adult, she took some years off before returning to row with the masters. Today, she helps out with Learn to Row and serves as coxswain, the voice guiding rowers from the front of the boat, when needed.

Detroit River rowing
Photography by Stop & Stare/David Taylor

“What drew me back was really the sport itself,” says Meadows, a Royal Oak resident. “It is just gorgeous at sunrise, especially when the water’s flat. Some people [say] they get in a Zen state because it’s so rhythmic. That part I loved.”

Over the years, Meadows interviewed other master rowers about what draws them to the sport. Some come to share an activity with a son or daughter. Others find new athletic ability in rowing, which uses every muscle set in the body for a total, exhilarating workout. Still others turn to rowing to work through a difficult period of life.

“In the coxswain seat is a great way to coach, because you’re right there with the rowers,” Meadows says. “You can really feel what’s happening with the boat. It’s a discipline sport. What really thrills me is to see everybody start to work together.”

Rowing is a great sport to learn as an adult, she says. The Detroit Boat Club offers morning or evening rowing, so dedicated rowers can get in an awesome workout before or after work.

“The basic stroke is not hard to get pretty good at,” she assures. “That’s a good appeal for adults. And it is so cool to be so close to the water.”


Ann Arbor Rowing Club,

Bay City Rowing Club,

Detroit Boat Club,

Detroit Women’s Rowing Association,

Ecorse Rowing Club,

Grand Rapids Rowing Association,

Lake Leelanau Rowing Club,

Lansing Rowing Club,

Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club,

Wyandotte Boat Club,

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