Anyone going to Venice knows that one of the things that makes the city so fascinating is its lack of cars. Waterways take the place of roads, and boats take the place of cars. So it shouldn’t be surprising that in Venice, there’s a special kind of stand-up rowing unique to the city – it’s called Voga alla Veneta.
Voga rowing developed to work particularly well with the flat-bottomed boats used to navigate the shallows of the Venetian lagoon. One of the distinctive characteristics – besides the fact that they’re standing up – is that oarsmen face forward, in the direction they’re going, rather than many rowing styles that have oarsmen facing backward. Venetian rowing can be done with one oarsman or multiple oarsmen. When there are two oarsmen, they can be using one oar each or two each, and when there are more than two oarsmen each has only one oar. Some skilled voga practioners will also row solo but with two oars – it’s a fun sight to see.
If you’re visiting Venice during one of the annual boat races in Venice – a “regatta” – then you may see the Voga in action. And certainly if you’re taking a gondola boat tour in Venice you’ll see your gondolier up close, practicing the Voga in a stylized way. But if you’re not satisfied with simply watching, if you’d like to take a more active role, then you’ll be happy to know you can actually sign up for Voga lessons while you’re in Venice.
Each oarsman performs a very specific role in a Venetian boat, and while it can look effortless and graceful, it’s quite challenging. Many of the boating clubs in Venice offer regular lessons to people who are available on an ongoing basis, but if you’re only in the city for a few days you can sign up for a single lesson that’s 1.5-2 hours long. There are even some more advanced Voga lessons that combines the lesson itself with a tour of Venice’s “cichetti” bars, where you’ll instantly be rewarded for all your hard work.