San Diego Crew Classic — The Rowing Season Starts Here ®
From its modest beginnings over four decades ago, the San Diego Crew Classic has matured into the largest regatta in the world held for primarily eight-oared rowing shells. The regatta provides a venue for high school junior programs, collegiate teams, masters’ clubs, and even Olympic-level competition. San Diegans can be proud of the strong influence the regatta has had nationally on the sport of rowing.
Rowing in San Diego
Rowing has a long tradition in our city. Although commonly considered a mostly Ivy League and east-cost sport, rowing in San Diego dates back to 1888, when a men’s rowing and swim club was established, eventually becoming the San Diego Rowing Club (SDRC). Originally within walking distance of downtown, the Rowing Club was a socially important place in the community, where many prominent men from business and government gathered to make important decisions that affected the city. Today, SDRC members compete successfully at competitions across the country and throughout the world.
In 1892, four young women founded ZLAC Rowing Club. The acronym was formed by the initials of their first names—Zulette, Lena, Agnes, and Caroline. At the time, women’s rowing was unheard of; in fact, ZLAC has been recognized as the world’s oldest women’s rowing club. Over the years, ZLAC programs have produced U.S. National team members, top college rowers, and several Olympians.
A West Coast Regatta
The San Diego Crew Classic was formed in 1973 by Patricia Stose Wyatt (a ZLAC member) and Joe Jessop, Sr., (an SDRC member) and other civic-minded San Diegans who intended to bring the nation’s top collegiate crews to Mission Bay in the spring for a showdown regatta. Among the first participants were the University of Washington and the Naval Academy who had developed a great rivalry. When approached with the idea of coming to San Diego for a west coast regatta, they enthusiastically agreed.
Focusing on the largest sweep boats (eights), the first San Diego Crew Classic was a three-hour event with 300 competitors in 12 races. The intent was to hold a fun and fair winner-take-all competition for bragging rights between traditional and up-and-coming rowing powers from across the country. Programmed to be fast moving, it kept the spectators interested!
The Crew Classic’s Influence
By the early 1980s, the regatta enjoyed such prominence that Patricia Stose Wyatt was chosen to run the rowing venue for the 1984 Olympic Games. Patty, a native San Diegan, was admired for her ability to run a rowing regatta efficiently and on time.
Under Patty’s leadership, the San Diego Crew Classic grew to include races for not only collegiate crews, but also for juniors and masters. But the regatta’s influence has had its most dramatic impact on the transformation of the sport at the collegiate level.
Rowing is the oldest collegiate sport in the United States, beginning with the Yale vs. Harvard race of 1852. Since the sport’s inception, the elite Ivy League schools dominated the Collegiate Championships until the late 1970s. As a result, many of the Ivy League crew members were selected for the National and Olympic teams, excluding many west coast rowers.
The Crew Classic played an important role in shifting the balance of the “powerhouse” rowing programs from the east to now include programs from the west coast. In 1975, the Copley Cup was established, and quickly became coveted as the grand prize for winning the premier men’s collegiate invitational race in the nation. The Copley cup today is proudly adorned with the names of many prestigious universities from both coasts, including Harvard, Washington, Penn, Cal, UCLA, and Stanford.
The regatta has grown considerably since that three-hour event in 1973. Today, it is a two-day, nationally acclaimed regatta, consisting of over 100 races with more than 4000 athletes. The protected waters and green lawns of Mission Bay Park offer a perfect setting for this well-loved event. Thousands of spectators watch the races on the popular Jumbotron. And now, thousands more watch the races via a live streaming webcast. The San Diego Crew Classic is living up to its name as America’s Premier Spring Regatta.