The Head of the Charles continues to be one of the most popular fall regattas in the USA for rowing teams. It is held every October on the Charles River (which separates Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts) and is the largest 2-day regatta in the world, with 11,000 athletes rowing in over 1,900 boats in 61 events. Many more applications to race are submitted than accepted. Some of the bigger races have dozens of crews racing the 3 mile course and the Youth 4’s and 8’s have over 80 entries in each race. This makes for a very busy river, very busy docks, and incredibly stressed out coaches. It also makes for some great racing. This is the 54th running of the HOCR and throughout these fifty-four years some things remain the same, but some are very different. Having raced and attended regularly since the 1980’s, here are some tips for attending this years race and a history of how the event has evolved throughout the years.
The River and the Race
Very little has changed on the racecourse other than the river may be a bit cleaner than it was 40 years ago. The race starts as you funnel into that start line in front of the Boston University boathouse. Hopefully you get there safe as dozens of boats are positioning themselves for what they think is their ideal start. Personally we liked to stay back a few lengths on the boat in front as we knew we would catch them rather quickly. Next you come around Magazine beach, a long Port pull, and into the Power-House stretch, the only straight part of the course for about a ½ a mile where you can ideally get speed and pass other crews. As you get through the Weeks footbridge and Anderson bridge where you will have to navigate the best lines and avoid crashes (this is where coxswains earn their stripes). Two miles in you’ll prepare for the Elliott Bridge turn, which is a true and complete 180 degree Starboard pull for about 100-150 strokes, depending on your boat type. So happy I rowed Port! Go through the bridge to an easy 90 degree port pull and you’ve got 400 meters to the finish. So the race remains exactly the same. And a great race it is. You can’t improve upon perfection.
What is different about Head Of The Charles Regatta Today?
Let’s start with the racers. There’s a lot more of them now than in 1988. There’s a lot more categories for every age and boat size. But the coxless sweep boats are no longer allowed for safety reasons. The HOCR has added “Directors” who can still buy their way in to the race if they didn’t gain entry through their speed or luck of the lottery. In the last 15 years the number of foreign competitors has increased dramatically as the Regatta is now popular worldwide. And HOCR added, a few years ago, the All Star eights which frankly we think takes away from the pure nature of the regatta.
The Commercialization of the HOCR
The crowds are much smaller today than they were back in the Eighties. And there was no commercial nature to the HOCR in the Eighties. In fact, there was nothing but maybe 300,000+ spectators on the banks of the Charles, compared to maybe 1/3 that number these days. Fans, alumni, students, parents not only descended upon the banks but many camped there or parked their RV’s on Mem’ Drive. Pop up reunions, significant drinking, partying, watching races, lowering beer down to rowers from bridges who had completed their races, food being cooked – it was a 3 day mass of human celebration and racing. Like many events 30-40 years ago – the simplicity gave way to “protection”, “consumerism” and the need for “money” to run these events. Today the HOCR is fully sponsored and has more vendors selling more stuff than you’ll find these days in any US mall.
There were no sponsors or anyone selling anything 40 years ago. Fact is – the first evidence of a vendor (kind of) at the HOCR was John Strotbeck and Boathouse. Back in 1985 most visiting crews parked their trailers and launched from magazine beach. Racing in the Club Eights that year with Vesper Boat Club, John parked his Toyota truck, with cap, in the middle of magazine beach and hung the newly created Boathouse Sports rowing apparel on the side. John was not there to sell, but just to make people aware of the Boathouse brand. Always trying to help, John filled the back of his Toyota with bananas, oranges and a lot of water as he knew his rowing friends on Magazine beach had no sustenance available after training and being out all day. So he gave the fruit and water away for free in an effort to simply help his friends within the rowing community. John continued this practice every year until the HOCR started down the road to commercialization, making deals with vendors to profit from food and water sales. John was told to pack up his truck and that he could no longer continue providing free food and water to participants.
Heading to HOCR 2018?
If you’re participating or attending Head of the Charles 2018, stop by the Boathouse tent and say hi. We can’t offer you food and water anymore (you’ll have to get a Clif bar or Lacroix Sparkling Water Beverage from the sponsors), but we’ll have all our elite performance outerwear and rowing apparel on display and for sale. New this year will be our Boathouse Design Lab, where we’ll let you use our online customizer to design your own rowing unis, jackets, shirts and more on-site. If you decide to buy your design, we’ll hook you up with 25% off as part of our HOCR special!
Get A Free Gift From Boathouse at our HOCR Tent!
Our Boathouse Ambassadors will be handing out sweet new stickers during the event with some marked on the back at random to receive a free gift. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a winning sticker make a beeline over to the Boathouse tent and Emma or Joe will give you a free gift from Boathouse.
If you or your team is racing in Boathouse gear, send us your race footage or event photos using the hashtag #BHtakesHOCR to share on Instagram and Facebook for a promo code good for 15% off at Boathouse.com.
Let us know if you're heading to HOCR 2018 on Facebook or in the comments below and enjoy the race. It’s quite a spectacle. Thankfully the race remains the same. The rest – well, change is good right?