Rower Sydney Huber is ready for world indoor championships

Sophomore Sydney Huber of Mira Costa High poses for a photo before the pandemic forced rowers indoors for competitions.
Sophomore Sydney Huber from Mira Costa High will be competing in the World Indoor Rowing Championships from her living room on an ERG machine.
(Huber family)

Call it strange, call it bizarre, call it mystifying. Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has created some unusual scenes over the last 11 months, and 15-year-old sophomore Sydney Huber from Mira Costa High School is about to experience another.

On Wednesday at 3 a.m. in Manhattan Beach, she’ll be in her family living room competing against 19 other female athletes from around the planet in the World Indoor Rowing Championships, based in Geneva.

Her parents will be watching from three computer monitors in the living room as she rows on an ERG machine. Everyone can see where she ranks every couple of seconds. The only things missing are water and a boat. Zoey, the family dog, will be rooting for her too.

“The dog gets put outside and cheers outside the window,” said Sydney’s father, Joe.

Virtual rowing competitions have been taking place for months because of coronavirus restrictions. The ERG machine — which stands for ergometer and is different from an exercise machine because it tracks performance from the lower body as well — is easily connected on the internet. It is so reliable that college rowing programs have awarded scholarships based on ERG performances.


Win or lose, the Huber household will be wide awake and pleased during the under-19 rowing competition.

“If she finishes last, we’re going to scream,” Joe said. “It’s very impressive she’s competing against high school seniors and college freshman from around the world after just turning 15.”

Sydney was a swimmer and in a junior lifeguard program when a lifeguard handed her a flyer a couple years ago telling her about RowLA, a program in Marina del Rey.

“I showed it to my mom,” she said. “She told me my cousin rowed for Yale. I went for a one-day trial and it was fun and did it again and again and got into it.”

Those early days were about trial and error while learning the basics of rowing.

“I was still a little nervous because I just figured out how to row on the ERG and it’s a big difference not on the water,” she said. “I didn’t do well in the beginning. I got anxious and tried to make sure both of my oars were even. It’s a different feel on water and more complex because you have to focus on not flipping and with multiple oars you have to follow the person ahead of you perfectly. If one person messes up, the whole boat messes up.”

A new gym that seats 2,500 gives Mira Costa options to host major events in the future. The athletics complex is inviting for spectators, too.

Feb. 14, 2021

She last raced on the water in February 2020. Her specialty is the four-person quad scull, but restrictions have limited her to rowing on the water in single boats. That will be her virtual competition Wednesday.

She qualified as the fastest qualifier at the Americans Continental Qualifier for women’s 500-meter sprints held Feb. 6-7 at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships. She competed in her living room with her mom, dad and younger brother cheering her on. There were competitors from Denmark and Zimbabwe. Those watching could see little blue dots moving on the computer screen. Her time was 1 minute 42.3 seconds.

Zoey was in the living room providing a pep talk before the competition.

“I was doing a warmup before the race, [and] she came up and started begging for pets,” Sydney said.


In the coming days, Sydney will try to adjust to being ready for a 3 a.m. rowing competition because the competition schedule is based on the time in Switzerland. After she competes, she’ll probably take a nap or have so much adrenaline that napping won’t be an option. Whatever happens, she’ll be ready for her morning high school distance learning classes via her computer. She gets no days off.

“School still takes priority,” her father said.

Let’s just hope her teachers at Mira Costa understand they might have a world indoor rowing champion on their next Zoom call, and an occasional yawn is understandable.