The water and the wind were calm early last Saturday morning while the long sleek “shells” — as they’re called — glided rhythmically atop the glassy surface in the “Head of the Marina” rowing competition.
Ninety-six boats in 39 classes employed their own brand of technique, brute force, and teamwork in an effort to come out on top in their respective classes.
Each boat, with its own distinct tempo, circled the track, racing more against themselves then their competition, but still worked hard to keep from being passed.
From 27-foot one-man shells up to the 62-foot eight-man (not including the coxswain) teams, the pursuit of balance, form and strength was evident on all 470 of the competitors’ faces.
Like Olympic swimmers, they attacked the course with a relentless repetitiveness as consistent as a pendulum’s swing.
The regatta had record-breaking participation this year due to the sport’s growing popularity in general, but particularly because of the growing populations in the junior divisions.
“This was the biggest turnout that we’ve had,” said race chair and California Yacht Club staff commodore Craig Leeds. “It was a good size and I imagine next year it will be even bigger.”
Leeds’ premonition is based more on statistical fact than a race chair’s lofty optimism.
Due to the popularity of the sport and a federal ruling called Title Nine (which has to do with athletic scholarships for women equaling those of men), participation in the sport is rapidly growing.
“You name any big-time football school and they now have a fully funded women’s rowing program that gives out 20 to 24 scholarships. So now, you see places that have big rowing teams that you’d never think would,” said Leeds.
With the allure of college scholarships in the equation, junior programs are subsequently growing.
“UCLA has the Marina Aquatics Center over there,” said Leeds. “And they have 80 to 100 kids in their program, so it’s getting quite big.
“If you look up and down California you’d be shocked to see how many junior rowing programs there are — and not just women — but guys also.”
Rowers came from as far away as Connecticut, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona to compete in the regatta, as well as our own USC, UCLA, and Loyola Marymount colleges representing.
Large crowds stood on the UCLA boat ramp and Loyola Marymount outpost to scream encouragement to their respective teams.
Another aspect of why the sport may be growing and becoming more popular is that it manages and respects a person’s age.
The divisions are separated and handicapped by age and entrants range from 13 years old all the way up to people in their 70s.
“It’s just a good sport — one that you can do until you keel over,” Leeds said. “At any age, you can always do it.”
“It’s a great workout,” said 46-year-old second-year rower Frank Glynn. “Unlike cycling, for instance, where you mostly use your legs, in rowing you use both your legs and your arms. It’s a really good cardiovascular exercise.”
In addition to the Head of the Marina race, the California Yacht Club also hosts a long distance race from Marina del Rey to Catalina Island.
The trip is 32 nautical miles and is a highlight event for rowers from all over the map.
For more info about rowing in this area, log onto the Web at www.calyachtclub.com