Message from Friends of UCI Rowing President – George Basile
Just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the entire 2020 sports and racing season for all athletes, the California Challenge Cup was hosted by UC Irvine Rowing with support from the Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III Foundation on February 29th, 2020. Hidden in a glassy channel overlooked by the Marina Park Community Center in Newport, thousands of spectators gathered on the beach, looked out the floor to ceiling windows of the community center, and cruised on the Ocean Explorer luxury yacht to watch rowing races fire-off every five minutes. It was Sunday, February 29, 2020. Leap-day.
This was the California Challenge Cup Regatta, hosted by UC Irvine, and made possible with the constant support of Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III. Designed and presented by Head Coach of the UC Irvine rowing program, Austin “AJ” Brooks, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III welcomed the concept of a race that would allow crews multiple chances to duel it out, head-to-head, over a 1250 meter course. For the eleven Californian institutions that participated, this was an opportunity to put forward their top two eights and see the fruition of months of relentless work.
But, cycle back a year, to spring of 2019, with the original UC Challenge Cup regatta taking place. Then, with rain lashing down, storm-winds howling and fewer teams racing in single races over the traditional 2000 meters and with everyone straining to see just a part of the race course, Dr. Nick and the UCI rowing coaches and supporters began to imagine a very different race. In this race, the water would be calm, people would be able to see the event and crews – more of them from all around – would have more chances to race and test themselves early in the season. Over the course of the next twelve months, a new race was born: more crews, racing head-to-head, over multiple races, with spectators able to experience races from shore, water and screen, and with teams able to race, adjust and race again. Coaches and rowers loved the idea. We had just the place in Newport. The California Challenge Cup emerged and fans and spectators turned up aplenty…
Back to this spring, the newly formatted and expanded event was a smashing success, and all it promised to be, with Cal’s A and B boat taking first and second, and almost every crew taking home a victory in their bracket.