I went to the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston a few weekends back with 400,000 other friends. We watched what can only be described as NASCAR for rich people. I suppose it could also be described as “too many people in a small area,” “mass confusion,” and “who won and who cares.”

It’s the largest rowing event in the world, and apparently Boston’s biggest event (bigger than the marathon) with competitors that Unreliable-guy-on-the-internet called, “the world’s most physically fit athletes.”

For someone unfamiliar with competitive rowing, it looks like people rowing a boat down a river. For someone familiar with competitive rowing, I have to assume it also looks like people rowing a boat down a river. It’s a craft the size of a pencil and eight massive people sit in it, rowing, while the ninth guy, the coxswain, who is no bigger than a carrot, and who has the easiest job in sports, sits in the back and screams obscenities at the eight. That setup is called the Coxed Eight, and I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Believe me, I tried. The coxswain is responsible, mostly, for steering the boat and confusing people. (I’m not just saying coxswain, OK? I’m not that immature. Coxswain is the word. Rowers call them cox. Probably.)

Because the coxswain is so far away, he or she has to use a microphone while yelling.

Spectators lined the banks of the river and cheered for nine-person boats, four-person boats, two-person boats, and one-person boats, presumably. I didn’t stick around long enough to see. The boats are called shells, the people in these boats are called rowers, probably. They are called scullers if they are using two oars at the same time, like a normal person. If you’re like me, you can remember this because you snuck into a movie in the year 2000 called “Skulls” with Paul Walker and Joshua Jackson, and you remembered that it’s generally about Ivy League guys who are rowers.

ANYHOW, some of the spectators seemed to actually know the rules, which startled me. We were watching this race when people started going nuts: “You’re going out of bounds! You’re going out of bounds!” After I made sure no one was yelling at me, I thought, surely, if there is any sport where you can tell if someone is going out of bounds, it should be rowing. Excuse me, I mean crew.

(WHY WAS J-CREW NOT SPONSORING THE EVENT? *Intern stands up at important J Crew meeting* “It’s so simple! Our name is already in the sport!”)

Joking aside, the sport is amazing and all that nice stuff you’re supposed to say in case someone who is a competitive rower stumbles upon this blog. Watching the boats glide through the water is very pleasing, and thinking about how they aren’t tipping over is fun to do. These athletes are large and their backs are very large. Glad that’s done.

Joking not aside, the people-watching was great. The volunteers were decked out in Brooks Brothers. There was a Brooks Brothers tent that was selling official rowing gear. A sweater with “HOCR” (Head of the Charles Regatta) stitched into the back. There was a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse tent, selling Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse food. Anderson Windows was there, selling a better quality of life via windows. Mazda was there, and people hated them for it. “You’re for average Americans! Only the elite is allowed! Beat it! Scram!” Untrue

After trashing this sport, I went on YouTube and looked at videos from the coxswain’s perspective, and twenty-five minutes later, I’m converted. They cruise! No one knows how fast. Some guy on the internet say two point five knots, but he’s an idiot. Another guy said ten to fifteen MPH, and that seems more accurate. Whatever. If I haven’t sold you on rowing, that’s probably a good thing. The boat costs about $40,000, the attire is goofy, watching it is tedious, but at least you know what a coxswain is.

Bart Tocci
Bart Tocci ('11) lives in Boston where he write essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com

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