Re­gat­tas should be fun

The Compass - - SPORTS - Melissa Jenk­ins Step­ping Stones Melissa Jenk­ins is a re­porter/pho­tog­ra­pher with The Com­pass news­pa­per of Trin­ity-Conception-Pla­cen­tia. She can be reached at Melissa.jenk­

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.

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