Old Guy in a PFD
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Training someone to ROW a boat is about like teaching a cat to swim; the best course is to toss them in and stay out of the way, cause they are not going to be happy at first.
Couple of things that you must get right until it's a habit.
First, understand that your power is going backwards (cause, you know, you pull with your back and push with your arms), so a good rule is to point your nose at the trouble; a rock you need to avoid, a big hole, whatever. I know a lot of people push more than pull, but I learned to pull, not push.
Second, you must learn to always, but always, keep your downstream oar out of the water unless you are actually using it, and KNOW there isn't a hard thing under there. You have not lived until your oar squarely hits a hidden rock, and the entire weight of your boat, carried by the current, lands on it. Something will give, and you will certainly not like it. I once broke a frame in half landing below Snaggle tooth, when my oar caught a rock I didn't look for. As someone said before, you can easily loose teeth dragging your downstream oar. I used to hook the oar under my knee; kept it out of the water, made for a nice brace, and was always available. I generally used my upstream oar to turn if I was sideways, and avoided like hell putting my downstream oar in the water if I was perpendicular to the current.
Third, you will probably set up your oars so that there isn't much room between the handles when you hold the oars horizontal. Learn to row with your thumbs wrapped around the handle, not hooked on the end of it. Even if you have room for both thumbs in there, when the oar handle ends are facing each other, sooner or later you won't have enough room for thumbs. You can break a thumb, but even if you don't break it, it hurts like hell to squash your thumb on an oar handle. Really, teach yourself this, or learn the hard way. Most rookies learned the hard way and they only needed one lesson in "thumbs around the oar dumb ass", but it always made them cuss.
Fourth, get your set up right for you. Lots of advice here and elsewhere, but bottom line is, it has to be comfortable for you. You're going to work your ass off at times, so be comfy.
Fifth, learn to pull with your back and legs. Sounds simple, right? Nope, it takes practice cause it ain't natural rookie. Rowing into the wind on Desolation will teach you quick to get it right, but practice anyway, think "my arms guide my oars, my back PULLS my oars, and my legs stabilize my back so it can pull" I can't explain this in writing, I've always had to show it, but simply your back is a piston, your arms are the connecting rods, and the oars are the crankshaft. Get a rhythm going, and a fluid motion. And, as several old boatmen with shoulder surgeries can tell you; if your joints hurt, you're doing it wrong.
When I rowed it was usually an overloaded cargo boat and sometimes a big assed pontoon, but in any event, you learn early on how to row efficiently and to always eat your wheaties; it's a lot of work, and generally no matter how tired, or hot, or sweaty you are you got no one to back you up, it's all on you.
And finally, you will learn very fast how to use the current to your advantage; how to turn the boat so the current will help push you the way you want to go, and how to turn into or away from shit, and in the end, that you are along for the ride. I'm convinced rowing has more power than paddling, but it's just you, not 3-7 other people helping, so you have to be efficient.
It's another story, but after I ran Lava the first time, and a Western Guide gave me 8 beers to celebrate, I put my oars up and promised my self I wasn't touching the oars until we hit camp 16 miles downstream or I drank the beer. Didn't care if I flipped, died, crashed and burned, cause you know, I just ran fucking Lava. And that's what I did. And that boat, completely on it's own, ran each of the half dozen or so rapids all by itself, as good (ok, better) than I would have. That experience taught me that most of the time, we flail away with our oars and make things worse than if we just go with the flow.
Sorry for the long response, hope it helps.