This paper reviews the fluid dynamic mechanisms that are fundamental to the rowing stroke. Complex interactions occur between the oar blade and water, and over the last 30 years our understanding of the mechanisms that govern rowing propulsion has developed significantly. The oar blade was once believed to rip through the water, generating a drag force acting normal to the blade. Current research indicates that the oar blade acts as an aerofoil making use of lift forces to propel the boat through the water early and late in the stroke, with drag being the dominant propulsive force when the oar is perpendicular to the boat. Early on-water research showed variations in the fluid dynamic behaviour of different oar blades. Recently, more controlled laboratory tests have isolated the oar blade from the rower–boat–water system to obtain blade characteristics. The isolated nature of recent oar blade studies and the complex nature of the oar blade–water interaction have led to suggestions that computational fluid dynamics (CFD) may be used to advance understanding of oar blade behaviour as a precursor to a more informed design process. By integrating a dynamic CFD model with a mathematical model of rowing mechanics, a full optimization of rower technique, boat rigging, and equipment design could be performed.