The annual Head of the Charles Regatta commenced remotely Friday with hundreds of clubs participating from their own locations.
The in-person aspect of this year’s rowing competition was suspended due to coronavirus safety concerns, according to a HOCR press release. The Regatta will honor guaranteed entries from 2019 for the 2021 event.
HOCR media and public relations coordinator Dan Beckham said roughly half of last year’s number of teams are participating in this year’s Regatta, from more than 700 teams to fewer than 400.
“Many clubs aren’t even really able to congregate because of [COVID-19],” Beckham said. “But, we’re really excited to have the traction that we have this year and we’re really glad to be able to engage the rowing community near and far with our offering.”
Despite fewer teams competing, Beckham wrote in a later email that most rowing clubs along the Charles River are participating, as well as athletes from the U.S. national team.
Rowers have a unique opportunity to compete on their “home body of water” in this year’s global remote event, Beckham said.
“What’s really neat is that rowers can not only show off how fast they can do the time with the current, with the wind,” Beckham said, “they get to show off more than just their club this year.”
Rowers will use GPS devices to monitor their performance and send in their times, Beckham said.
“Of course, we can’t stop people from being creative and cheating, but we have a lot of trust in the rowing community,” Beckham said. “The honor that they carry into each workout and each race is really substantial.”
Beckham said many of the Regatta’s sponsors have agreed to sponsor next year’s race. He added that some sponsors who typically sell merchandise at the race are concerned about lost revenue because of its remote format.
Local hotels and restaurants are also bracing for reduced sales, Beckham said, as athletes and spectators won’t be traveling to the city.
One remote year won’t change the Regatta’s reputation as one of the most well-known rowing competitions, Beckham said.
“The rowing community, the communities of Boston and Cambridge, really know Head of the Charles. They hold it in high esteem,” Beckham said. “The rowing community isn’t going to forget about us as one of the largest regattas and in the country and in the world.”
Brett Johnson, senior director of programs and communications at USRowing, said the organization will continue to support the Head of the Charles.
“What all regattas are trying to provide is what all of the teams are looking for: ways to keep engaged in the sport, keep training in the sport, finding opportunities to compete in the sport,” Johnson said, “and just trying to make the best of 2020 in hopes that we’ll be back to racing outdoors sometime in 2021.”
Adam Balogh, boys’ crew coach at Noble and Greenough School, said fewer of his rowers are competing this year, and the race will lack in its typically social environment.
He added he is glad HOCR decided to adapt the regatta to current circumstances rather than cancel it, because it gives athletes something to train for.
“Training for the sake of training is just training,” Balogh said. “Training for the sake of a competition leads to a better improvement in an athlete. So that urgency of a competition is welcome.”
Brian Wagner, youth women’s head coach at Everett Rowing Association, said while he was first disappointed by the HOCR’s decision to go remote, he is working to keep his team motivated.
Wagner said his team will miss the atmosphere of the in-person event.
“You see all those people walking around, there’s a genuine excitement that comes from that, an adrenaline rush.” Wagner said. “You don’t really get that when you’re remote.”