Rowing is a serious sport in Durham. The River Wear meanders through the city and the central features of Durham are located on the peninsula formed by the oxbow in the river. This provides an ideal spot for rowing teams to practice. Many of the Colleges are located along the River, including mine, St. John’s College. On my morning walks in, I get to the river as quickly as I can and walk along it for as long as I can. I have always loved to be on the water.
This relationship with the river has paid off for Durham University. Durham has the most successful rowing program in Britain. The University have held the British University Championship since 2004–NINE years in a row. In the midst of such a culture, the Durham Regatta is held each year. A cooperation of groups organizes the event, including amateur rowing groups, University and College groups, Durham schools, and County Durham
The first regatta was held to celebrate the victory at Waterloo in 1815. The regatta, in its present form, dates back to 1834. It is the second oldest race in the UK, second only the the Chester Regatta. It pre-dates the Henley event on the Thames by 5 years. Depending on who you ask, the races are referred to as “The Durham of the South” or “The Henley of the North.” The Durham Regatta welcomes over 2000 competitors from school groups, inter-college races, University teams, and more *ahem* seasoned rowers. There were over 700 entries in 800 races this year.
Students and people from the community line the river for the races which are usually 750 meters. Some heats are longer, 1.25 miles, and continue past a bridge that date back to at least the 12 century. Community groups’ tents and vendors line the race course as well.
I admire the hard work of the rowing teams. The physical training is intense. The hours are long. I have seen them practicing at all hours of the day, sometimes by flashlight in the pre-dawn light or early moonlight. Individual rowing seems a lonely, admirable journey. Team rowing seems to be a picture of precision team work. Watching the (upwards of 16) oars cut the water in synchronization is amazing. I think about how much could be accomplished if we applied some of those same lessons to other areas of our lives. It takes not only the rowers, but the coxswains, equipment experts, an coaches as well. I love to see an experienced coach working with new rowers. The years of experience on the riverbank teaching the youthful energy in the boat is a beautiful transaction.