Cut the cake
is a rowing drill where one regular stroke is taken, followed by an air stroke with just arms, or arms and back
. The purpose of this drill is to get the entire team swinging together. When everyone swings together and prepares their bodies before their legs break, the boat stays rock solid and doesn't tip to one side or the other.
Cut the cake doesn't feel natural at all. The weird positioning of the hands necessary to keep the oar out of the water takes some getting used to. That's kind of the point of the drill; you want to break a bad habit of a slow swing out of the bow or misplaced arms. Though you have momentum with the boat running underneath you, it is still tough to keep the oar out of the water and complete the air stroke. Because of this, cut the cake looks very impressive from the shore when done correctly, especially when done with the arms and back.
Once the crew is cutting the cake precisely, the boat feels great. Oars don't hit the water, and everything feels a lot smoother. When the crew goes back to regular rowing, the whole technical aspect of the stroke should have been improved immensely. The only truly bad part of cut the cake is getting to that good stage. When one oar hits the water during the air stroke, it can ruin the whole cycle for everyone, because the weight dips around when this happens.