The Head of the Oklahoma regatta keeps growing.
Now in its eighth year, the regatta on Saturday and Sunday will field its largest number of participants yet, more than 1,500 rowers and paddlers.
Fifty-two rowing clubs and university crews will compete in Oklahoma City University's largest athletic event, held in downtown Oklahoma City on the Oklahoma River.
Before the regatta and during it on Saturday, there will be the regatta festival. It kicks off Thursday night with the annual corporate and dragon boat racing as part of the OGE NightSprints.
There will be more corporate and dragon boat racing on Friday night. On Saturday night, the clubs and universities will participate in the sprints.
Festival activities both Thursday and Friday nights and on Saturday include fireworks, live music, food vendors and a beer and wine garden on the Oklahoma River.
Rowing clubs from across the United States and Winnipeg, Canada are entered this weekend, as well as one athlete from the Santiago Rowing Club in Monterrey, Mexico.
Powerhouse university programs such as the Harvard men and Stanford women always send crews to the Head of the Oklahoma regatta.
“We send the seniors rather than our fastest possible lineup,” said Harvard coach Bill Manning. “It's a terrific, fun trip for the seniors and they look forward to it every year.
“Obviously, they enjoy the night sprints. The regatta also allows some of the guys to see a part of the country that they might not otherwise ever travel to. It certainly gives them a greater appreciation for Oklahoma.
“Additionally, the regatta is very well run and the site is fast becoming a center of American rowing.”
Collegiate crews from LSU, Clemson and UMass will be rowing in the regatta for the first time.
The UMass women have one of the strongest sculling programs in the country and will be in Oklahoma City primarily to offer competition against OCU, which trains its athletes in both sculling and sweep rowing.
Sculling is when each crew member rows with two oars. Sweeping is when each crew member rows with one oar.
“Ninety-nine percent of collegiate rowing in the United States is sweep rowing,” said Melanie Borger, the OCU women's rowing coach. “It's just traditionally been done that way for 100 years.
“The problem with that is it doesn't train young adults to be the best rowers they can be. They really need to be well versed in both rowing disciplines.”
Universities choose to participate in sweep rowing because it accommodates more athletes, Borger said.
In addition, the NCAA championships do not offer sculling races, she said.
Races in sweep rowing are held in eight-, four- and two-person boats. Making the eight-person crew is considered the most prestigious in collegiate rowing.
Sculling events involve crews of four rowers, pairs or individual races. They are more common in international competitions.
“There are more sculling events at world championships and at the Olympics than there are sweep events,” Borger said.
That's a big reason OCU stresses sculling.
“We are committed to training our athletes so they can compete on the national and international level and not just the collegiate level,” she said.
Another reason is simply fewer athletes. OCU, an NAIA school, has fewer rowers than other universities with women's rowing programs such as Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma, which concentrate primarily on its eight-person boats.
“More schools are embracing it (sculling) but they still don't emphasize it like we do, because quite frankly, the NCAA doesn't field sculling events,” Borger said.
“Coaches and rowers believe in it, but the system is not set up for that yet.”