For 40 years residents of Labrador West have either pumped their legs as they soared across the water for the Labrador West Regatta, or they cheered on from the side
Organizers hope this year’s regatta at Jean Lake will be bigger than ever, with politicians and founding fathers of the sport invited to the event.
Harold Clarke, president of the Labrador West Coxswains, said they’re mostly looking for a lot of races and a lot of good weather.
“We were hoping the expo was going to take care of a lot of it, but that fell by the wayside, so we’re scrambling to get things into place. But we have a few things planned like a meet and greet, a few giveaways, things like that.”
The first race starts at 7am on July 27. Last year 18 races were scheduled every 30 minutes with all categories represented from juvenile up to masters, men’s and ladies.
The Olympic style-rowing event has four rowers and a coxswain in a sliding seat shell, rowing approximately 1200 meters from the south side of Jean Lake to the north end.
“We have a lot of records. We hope this year we’ll break a lot,” Clarke said.
The two overall championship crews are not rowing this year, making an open field for new crews to take the championship spot.
Clarke said they usually have between 200-250 competitors.
“We’ve had as high as 55 crews, but the work load here in town and job availability may hurt the number. A lot of our rowers, like the students and college rowers, are all working in different areas or shifts so it's difficult for them to get different crews together, where five years ago most of the students had day shift jobs.”
The teams pay a $200 fee and use the club-owned equipment. Practice started a week early this summer, and will continue from 5am-9pm daily, based on availability.
“It takes a lot of dedication; it’s a technical event. The majority of your physical exertion comes from your legs; your upper body is just controlling your are and the movement, but all the main power is in your legs.”
Clarke said some of the better rowers are female rowers.
“They tend to be able to put this technique of using your legs into practice, where the men seem to want to do it all with their upper body.”
The regatta is the longest continuously running sporting/social event in Labrador West.
The all day, all night event, has festivities, a beer garden, bands, and local entertainment.
Thunder or lightning may delay the event, only allowing the race to continue 30 minutes from when the conditions stop.
“We have it on a Friday because all our volunteers and racers understand that if it doesn't go ahead on Friday, we have Saturday and Sunday to take up the slack.”
Clarke has seen the Jean Lake Regatta since day one, competing in its first regatta in 1973.
“There’s been lots of changes over the years, like our first regatta using converted whale boats. And (in 2004) we were the first club in the world to have a complete fleet of five bio-rig shells, a new technique in rowing.”
Clarke said he’s optimistic about the 40th anniversary.
“We’re getting a lot of community support, so all we need now is to get our rowers out with some good weather.”
Ashleigh Strang, president of Labrador West Rowing Club, said the regatta is the top summer event in the area.
“Regatta Day is our civic holiday, so that speaks for itself and how big of a day it is for us. And outside of St. John’s we are the biggest regatta in the province.”
The club is also selling tickets for its $5,000 cash draw to help raise money.
“We’re saving money so when it's time to purchase more shells or oars, we'll have a nice nest egg.”
The club recently purchased 20 oars for $8,000 with money Nick McGrath secured with the provincial government.
Strang said sponsorship has never been a problem.
“We draw on all local businesses for sponsorship, and I can't remember the last event where a racer didn't have a sponsor. It's interesting having 50 teams representing 50 companies.”
Strang said the event is not only fun for the community but is also an opportunity for non-profit groups, which can be applied for at the boathouse up until the day before the race.
“Concession stands are a great opportunity to get out there and make some good money, because you do get such hordes of people coming out.”