Regattas should be fun
For the past three years I have attended regattas in Harbour Grace and Placentia for The Compass.
Each year when I go back, the feeling is different.
In 2013, I remember being in Harbour Grace and a shell hitting the rocks near the shoreline. Those in the boat laughed it off as they got rescued by a local that rolled up his pant legs and help tow the boat back out to the open water.
No one made a fuss or caused a ruckus. It was just continue on as usual.
Last year I attended both Harbour Grace and Placentia. It was my first out-of-town regatta experience. I attended St. John’s years earlier when I lived there going to school, but I didn’t even watch the races.
In Placentia, younger crews were enthusiastic, coxswains were established and everyone cheered and celebrated on the docks after the races, regardless of placing.
Harbour Grace saw similar attitudes, with numerous younger crews participating for the first time.
Although all teams showed a competitive spirit in both towns, it was about the experience, the fun and the relationships they built.
Both towns are rowing towns. There are family names that have been affiliated with rowing for many years that still row or are a part of the regattas today, including the Chafe and Williams families in Harbour Grace and the Collins and O’- Keefe families in Placentia.
Harbour Grace hosts a family race each year as a memento to those days when families rowed together. It often sees former rowers return for a chance to relive their glory days.
From my perspective though, the atmosphere around the regattas is changing, and many of the senior teams that participate come from St. John’s.
The focus has gone away from younger rowers and family entities to bragging rights and winning. Safety is still a priority though.
The championship races especially seem to have taken on a new persona. It’s about the win, about being the best. Winning is not always a possibility when you’re new to the sport.
Now, don’t get me wrong, winning is always a goal and winners of every race receive medals. But in towns like Placentia and Harbour Grace, where rowing is something many try at least once to see if they enjoy it, it’s a lot of pressure to go up against teams that are in it for the win.
It doesn’t help that Lady Lake in Harbour Grace and the pond in Southeast Placentia are prone to windy conditions. Opportunities to practice on a smooth surface are limited.
In fact, some teams in Harbour Grace had only been on the water a couple of times at the beginning of July. But that hasn’t stopped them from signing up for the sport.
Every night and every morning, my Facebook feed has photos and posts about St. John’s teams heading to Lady Lake for a practice row. This is not always possible in Placentia or Harbour Grace, seeing the low numbers of coxswains who each take on multiple teams and with poor water conditions.
The seriousness has left a hole in the sport for those who want to take part for fun. Only one team from Harbour Grace attended Placentia this year, and two from Placentia are going to Harbour Grace.
What I know for certain, the towns still love the sport and enjoy competing. But the serious nature for some teams, ones that are all or nothing, seem to be swaying the attitude that the sport should be, and must be, competitive.
I enjoy my regatta visits, but it’s mostly now for the interaction, activities and local team celebrations. Hopefully the spirit of the sport will be revived, and everyone that competes will celebrate the teamwork of such a difficult sport and remember that winning is not everything.