Imagine a regatta like this: "You can watch the whole race from start to finish, you see all the technical mistakes, you can feel the boats speeding up and preparing for the starts. There are big fan clubs who come with flags and banners and cheer on their teams. There is loud music, the bass is awesome, there is a presenter standing on a high tower who provides background information and comments on the races.... The atmosphere is so much 'not-rowing.'"
That was a friend of JL's, Anne Hutmacher, describing the Ruder-Bundesliga (German National Rowing League) of which she is a member. The RBL is composed of 12 women's teams and 33 men's. Former German national team members and university rowers race together in eights in a series of 350m races over six different weekends. Teams can substitute four rowers per race day, so most teams come to regattas with 10 to 12 people. Points are totaled at the end of the season based on the teams' finishes at each race. It's like the German Rowing version of Rec. League Softball, but with erg test.
Anne Hutchmacher (right) and her crew Row for Cora. They row in honor of their friend who has breast cancer.
RBL teams train seriously about 5 times a week. Even though the races are only 350m long, fitness remains important because athletes must race up to six times in one day. Anne tells me that the training focuses on "Schnellkraft... most teams spend a lot of time in their outings on the perfection of the catch and to move the boat a decent stroke length in the races." This sounds like what crews practice regardless of their race distance, but with only 350m to race in the RBL, there's no room for error- just one mistake is the difference between first and last. The women's eights usually maintain a stroke rate of 45 strokes per minute and the men will get up to a 50.
A typical racing weekend in the Ruder-Bundesliga starts like most other regattas- the athletes arrive at the course and start rigging their boats. But then the athletes start pitching tents next to the course. Most teams can't afford hotels so they camp at the course or hole up in a nearby gym. "This makes the whole thing quite adventurous," Anne said.
JL's Germany reps (bow and 5 seat) racing in the Ruder-Bundesliga.
Racing starts with time trials four days prior to the main event. The teams are then split into "blocks" and race in eighth, quarter, semi-finals, and finals. The first two blocks (eighth and quarter-finals) are four boats across, the semis and finals are duals. The days can get quite long as Anne explained:
A typical race day starts at 10:00 on a Saturday.
Final four finals at 8:30 pm, other rankings take place
between 6 and 8. Medal ceremony at 9:30, start of
After-Row party at 10... the parties are legendary.
After the racing concludes, the top three eights receive medals. "The organizers claim that the medals look like a seat, but everybody else thinks and knows that it is a bottle opener for beer."
The arena-like atmosphere of the RBL turns rowing into a spectator sport. It encourages regular sports fans to get involved; people can watch entire races, go nuts over tight finishes, cheer for their favorite crews and rowers. This could be the type of event rowing needs to grow.
Anne- who just handed in her dissertation on Women's Rowing in Germany last month- told me,
The RBL is the best thing that could happen to
the German Rowing Federation. There are so
many fans and spectators. Even non-rowers
understand the system as they are able to watch
the full race. Many athletes who retired a decade
ago get back into boats. It's great to see Olympic
Champions racing for their clubs. I think the system
would be very successfull all over the world but
especially in the U.S. because the colleges and
universities concentrate on the eight and even
beginners could be given a chance to experience
racing and regatta life.
I don't know what type of infrastructure such a rowing league requires, but I do know there are plenty of U.S. rowers ready to participate should the chance arise. Right now a large opportunity gap exists for college rowing grads who would like to continue racing, but are either too young for, or too unenthusiastic about, masters rowing. An American version of the Ruder-Bundesliga would present a great outlet for athletes as well as bring the sport to new audiences. It would also give people another great reason to buy well made and great looking rowing gear from JL.
Very cool RBL video links:
JL Germany Rep post race... "the parties are legendary."