Charlie Banks-Altekruse fell in love with rowing in the early Seventies in Northern Ireland, where he was studying abroad as a high-school exchange student. He was drawn to the mysterious sport when he noticed groups of rowers propelling boats out to nearby islands dotted with decrepit stone castles. "I thought that was pretty exotic, so I gave it a shot," he said.
His initial curiosity turned into decades of competitive rowing. In 1980 Banks-Altekruse served as the captain of Harvard's undefeated rowing team, and later was a member of the US Olympic team. He's also picked up both silver and bronze medals from the World Rowing Championships.
"Rowing is a great sport because it's a lifelong sport," he said. "It's good for all parts of your body and it doesn't cause a lot of wear and tear. And just being on the water is a very sort of therapeutic, meditative thing — it's really relaxing and rejuvenating."
After years of professional rowing, Banks-Altekruse settled in Berkeley in 1999 and soon sought out a local space to stretch out his sea legs. He found such a spot at Berkeley's Aquatic Park, where he joined the Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club, a group that invites rowers and paddlers of all skill levels.
Anyone similarly intrigued by the sport will find the perfect occasion to test the waters on Saturday, June 4, when the Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club offers free introductory tutorials at its Aquatic Park boathouse (2851 Bolivar Dr., Berkeley) as part of the tenth-annual National Learn to Row Day. People of all ages and experience levels are invited to attend the event, in which a group of experienced coaches will teach the basics before accompanying the newly anointed rowers as they maneuver oars and rowing shells onto the lake's shallow waters. The greatest difficulty of the sport, Banks-Altekruse said, is maintaining balance and coordination with the boat and its oars. As a precaution, coaches will accompany new rowers in two- and four-person boats provided by the club.
Banks-Altekruse has helped run the event for the past five years, and will be on hand this year to share the logistics of the sport, from general safety tips to boat handling. Attendees will first practice on an ergometer — an on-land rowing machine that mimics the motion of rowing — and by the end of the day should be able to maneuver a boat on the water. "It's a great resource for the community," Banks-Altekruse said. "It's not strenuous and it's not complicated." The event is sponsored in part by USRowing, the national governing body for the sport, and the Concept2 rowing company. Some food will be provided, but participants may want to bring along provisions including sunscreen, sunglasses, and water — plus an extra pair of socks in case anyone gets their feet wet, which, at least in the figurative sense, is the whole point of the day. 9 a.m.-noon, free. Berkeley RowingClub.org