Sunday, March 20th, UC Irvine Men’s Rowing participated in the 57th Annual Newport Regatta in Newport Beach. The regatta was last held before the pandemic forced the closure of all club sports in March 2019.
Anticipation was high for the regatta, a hotly contested event between So-Cal rowing powerhouse programs UCLA, UCSB, LMU, CSULB and host OCC. Crews rowed north to south down the Newport Harbor 2000m racing channel in a tailing wind and against an incoming tide, often lined up six to seven boats across. Races were held in men’s Novice events, 2V (Junior Varsity), and 1V (Varsity). UCI performed well across the board, with the novice eight taking 3rd.
In the premier event of the day, the Varsity Eight, UCI swept the field in a time of 5 minutes and 59 seconds, coming in ahead with open water on a fast UCLA crew. The race was closely contested, but Irvine led from start to finish. According to Coach AJ Brooks, the crew executed on their race plans, made moves where required, and never looked back. Coxswain Carlos Dominguez-Cruz called for a power ten with 600 meters-to-go and a well-executed sprint with 250 meters-to-go that put the victory firmly in Irvine’s grasp.
Irvine’s Team captain and six-seat in the V8, Connor Basile, said the boat was excited at the prospect of bringing home a victory to the program for the first time since 2015.
Cameron Rakhshani, 2-seat in the Varsity boat, added:
To prepare for the regatta, my crewmates and I spent a lot of time honing-in our skill and technique in smaller boats (called the pairs). The pairs, as the name suggests, are designed to fit two oarsmen, as opposed to eight. Rowing the pair effectively requires precision, balance, and flawless technique. In addition, in the pair there is no room for loafing or “off strokes”. With only two guys in the boat, it becomes quickly obvious when one member isn’t rowing correctly or is rowing with an insufficient amount of strength and pressure. A single error has the potential to turn the boat twenty degrees or cause a significant slow down. The boat yields real time results and requires full attention and focus. If you are ever looking for a non-aquatic experience that bears resemblance, you should consider buying a unicycle. For my week in the pair, I was partnered with Phil Lechner, a 6'6” beast of an oarsman and a Chemistry PhD student at UC Irvine. Phil is a solid athlete and above all a seasoned student of the sport. Working with Phil and receiving his feedback helped me clean up my technique and improve my length through the water. Each day, I saw significant improvement and better results. During the inter-crew scrimmage at the end of the week, I rowed some of the smoothest race pieces of my rowing career.
Winning the Newport Regatta was incredibly satisfying, yet at the same time it was a humbling experience. The rowing world and the world at large has been through a lot over the past two years. Many collegiate athletes have had to hang up their trou, cleats, and gym kicks sooner than they would’ve liked to. I myself was a varsity oarsman at UCI during the 2020 season and am extremely lucky to be a part of the program today. During the 2020 season, the majority of the athletes on our varsity roster were seniors. That year, the team was looking better than it had in years. As a program we were on a peak. As you already know, that season was abruptly canceled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19. On our team, many of our guys were forced to retire without being able to capitalize on all the work put in over the entirety of their rowing career. The Newport Regatta on Sunday was not a typical race, it was an honor, and even more so it was an opportunity to represent a greater community of athletes that would’ve given anything to be on the water in their time. When our team fought and won on Sunday, it felt like we were living out the vision and dream of a community bigger than ourselves.
Lastly a special thank you to Orange Coast College, Cam Brown, Dave Grant, and entire Orange Coast staff for keeping the history of the Newport Regatta so rich. 57 years and UC Irvine has won the Varsity 8+ only 6 times in program history.
Shaking hands with my former teammates on the dock, I knew deep within that they were just as excited, proud, and humbled as we were. You never know what you have until it’s gone. All you are given is today. I am incredibly grateful that we were given the opportunity to give our all on the water and am appreciative of all the rowing programs and community supporters that made the event possible.
Moving forward, we will continue to pursue excellence. On the calendar this week is the opening of Spring Break, a chance for our team to dedicate full time attention to getting fast, in lieu of academics. The focus of the week is centered around technique and strength. Once again, we are spending the mornings in the pairs, with the afternoons dedicated to strategic strength conditioning (RP3, core circuits, etc.). Performing well at the Husky Open in two weeks is going to require excellence from every guy on the boat. Day by day and meter after meter, we are moving closer towards it.
Written by: Christina Basile & Cameron Rakhshani