To paraphrase the popular saying: When the rowing gets tough, the Scouts keep going.
In June, two Scouts from Oregon tested their bravery, strength and perseverance in a national beach rowing competition against the nation’s best athletes. With a spot at the world championships on the line, they faced painful injuries, costly mistakes and unrelenting ocean waves.
But these Scouts kept going — and were rewarded with a victory.
In June, Eagle Scout Aidan Ehrismann and Life Scout Joshua Li, both members of the Portland, Ore.-based Cascade Pacific Council, won the junior men’s double sculls event at the 2021 Beach Sprints National Team Trials in Sarasota, Fla.
“People in the offshore rowing community had no idea where these boys came from,” says Aidan’s dad, Chuck. “Both races were pure nail-biting excitement. They basically walked onto the beach with no coastal rowing experience except for a one-day familiarization and surprised everyone. I’ve been encouraged and motivated by them.”
As winners in their division, Aidan and Josh will represent the United States at the World Rowing Beach Sprints Finals, set for Sept. 24–26 in Portugal.
And if their impressive trajectory continues, the story won’t end there.
This summer, Aidan and Josh trained with the United States Rowing Association’s Olympic Development Program. They spent a month in Florida practicing rowing, doing yoga, lifting weights and preparing their minds for Olympic-caliber competition.
The program is designed to help develop the next generation of athletes for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
We caught up with Aidan and Josh to learn more about their remarkable rowing.
What is beach sprint rowing?
Beach sprint rowing features two elements you won’t see during Olympic rowing competitions: waves and a giant U-turn.
Aidan and Josh competed in double sculls, meaning both rowers used two oars — as opposed to sweep rowing, where each athlete has just one oar.
In Aidan and Josh’s event, one member of the two-person team starts on the beach while their teammate waits in the boat at the water’s edge. When the flag lowers to start the race, the runners sprint to their boats, hop in and begin rowing. Teams must row against the waves, battling hard to fight through the crashing whitecaps.
The course itself is a slalom, meaning racers must zigzag through markers along the way.
A buoy 250 meters from shore signifies the course’s halfway point. Once there, racers perform a giant U-turn and head back to the beach.
While the paddle out requires strength and stamina to fight the waves, the paddle back challenges teams to read the wind and waves to find the best path.
“Coastal rowers often don’t row straight paths between the start and the finish but rather ones that follow the directions of the waves or are complementary to the winds,” Josh says. “The straightest path is often not the fastest.”
When they get to the sandy shore, one racer exits the boat and sprints to the start/finish line.
In Aidan and Josh’s final, all of that action unfolded in just over three minutes. (Watch it here. Their race starts at the 2 hour, 40 minute mark.)
A team forms
Before the national event, Aidan and Josh weren’t known in the offshore rowing circuit.
That makes sense when you consider that Aidan and Josh only met last year as members of the Rose City Rowing Club in Portland, Ore.
Aidan, a 15-year-old Eagle Scout from Troop 117 of Portland joined the rowing club in the fall of 2019.
Josh, a 17-year-old Life Scout from Troop 432 of Lake Oswego, Ore., joined in the winter of 2019.
While they rowed for the same team, they didn’t interact much until the fall of 2020, when they became good friends. That’s also when they learned they were both involved in Scouting — and both served as their troop’s senior patrol leader.
Even though he’s not in Aidan’s troop, Josh even showed up to volunteer at Aidan’s Eagle Scout service project.
In a further example of their Scouting roots, Aidan and Josh showed stellar sportsmanship during their races in Florida. These Good Turns were recognized by USRowing officials, who submitted their names to receive a national sportsmanship award.
“On race day, we cheered on all of the athletes that we were competing with,” Josh says. “At the start, we yelled for them and cheered. At the finish, we helped direct them toward the finish line. Regardless of anyone’s affiliation, they were our friends.”
The day of the race
Getting to the finish line isn’t easy. Especially when you give your opponent an unexpected head start.
In the final, which is a head-to-head, winner-take-all race, Aidan lost his footing as he sprinted into the waves. This gave the opposing team, a pair from Tampa, Fla., a huge head start.
“I was running into the water to jump into the boat, and I hyperextended my knee,” Aidan says. “I quickly snapped out of it and jumped into the boat.”
Drone footage captured the moment when Aidan and Josh began to accelerate and crash through the whitecaps, closing in on their competition. The play-by-play announcer said Aidan and Josh were “hot on their tail.”
With powerful strokes timed perfectly, Aidan and Josh took the lead as they approached the U-turn buoy.
“We rowed out perfectly, but on the way back we got swept up in a wave and got extremely close to the middle boundary,” Aidan says.
Aidan and Josh appeared to get momentarily caught up in the U-turn buoy, causing them to lose momentum. They trailed by 0.6 seconds at the midway point, according to the official results.
On the way back, they made up that small deficit, taking a smart route back to the shore — appearing to even surf on top of the waves at one point.
But the injuries weren’t quite behind them. When they beached the boat, Josh sprinted to press the button that officially stops the clock. But as he dove for the button, Josh landed directly onto it, rolling onto his back.
“Josh still has sand burns from that dive today,” Aidan says.
In the official results, Aidan and Josh finished at 3 minutes, 5.3 seconds — exactly 18 seconds ahead of their competitors.
Rowing and Scouting
Making time for school, competitive rowing and Scouting takes someone skilled in time management.
For Josh, this has meant keeping a calendar of activities — as well as an idea of how to prioritizes those activities when schedules conflict.
“For me, school comes first, then Scouts and rowing,” Josh says.
But that’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, he adds.
“During crunch times, such as before a Scout outing or right before a race, I focus on rowing or Scouting more,” he says. “It’s all about what you can give up to do everything to the best of your ability for the time that you have.”
For Aidan, who earned his Rowing merit badge at Camp Pioneer before he ever considered rowing competitively, completing the Eagle requirements swiftly was a priority.
Aidan, who has been in Scouting since first grade, didn’t want to breeze through the requirements and then leave the program. But he did work hard to earn Eagle early in his high school career, knowing that young people only get busier as graduation nears.
“Scouting has taught me to live the Scout Law, have independence and respect others,” he says. “I can’t imagine myself without Scouting.”
Josh agrees, adding that his time in Scouting has helped him become a better rower — even if he hasn’t yet earned the Rowing merit badge.
“Rowing is teamwork,” he says. “The leadership I derived from Scouting has made me more assertive in my communication to my boatmates.”
Looking toward Portugal
Between now and the world championships in September, Aidan and Josh will work with their coach, Nick Haley, to train their bodies and minds.
Both Scouts say they’re looking forward to more than just racing in the Atlantic waters off Portugal’s west coast.
“I’m also looking forward to discovering another continent of culture,” Josh says.
Looking back on their journey so far, Aidan says it all happened because he and Josh were willing to try something new.
“Rowing and Scouts aren’t for everyone,” Aidan says. “What I do strongly encourage is that people go out, try new things, and find and do what they love. That is one of the most important things in life — to find what you love and stick with it. For me, it’s rowing and Scouts.”