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Picking Up the Oars Again

Long Beach State crew alums.

Long Beach State crew alums. Photo by David J. Nelson

By Dave Straley

I was working for USAID in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the early ’80s and saw a photo in a U.S. news magazine of eight former Harvard crew members dressed in street clothes sitting in a shell at a dock. The photo caption of the reunion highlighted their professional careers. I thought, how passive. If you get an alumni boat together, you should row.

Living and working overseas for years, I never had the opportunity to stay in touch with former rowers, let alone organize a reunion row. Even when I settled back in the U.S. full-time, I was far away from Long Beach.

Five years ago, Beach Crew formed BCA to raise funds for Beach Crew and re-connect old crewmates. With the BCA database, it was just a matter of picking the shortest of all races, the 800 meters LB Fall Regatta, and asking those on the list from my era if they wanted to row in a 60 and Over boat.

Photo courtesy of Steve Ryan

Beach Crew members in the late 1960s practice in Long Beach Marine Stadium near the Appian Way bridge. Photo courtesy of Steve Ryan

Rowers never forget the glide, sounds of the oar-locks in unison, boat house camaraderie, and hypnotic concentration of trying to make each stroke cleaner and stronger than the one before it. They also don’t forget the pain in the thighs and anaerobic gasping for air.

Because of the latter, getting a reunion row was a bit of a challenge. I had to soft-sell it as an exhibition row—800 meters, not the collegiate 2,000, and not a race. We would just paddle and might bargain for some kind of age-adjusted handicap. We were doing this to get back together and show off after 40-plus years.

And, naming the boat “When I’m 64,” or “Win I’m 64,” also had a great marketing draw for my generation. You’re back at the boat-house rowing in your sixties, not saving all year to rent a cottage for a weekend on the Isle of Wight.

The response was either an emphatic “No” or “Ssure, but do you know how insane this is.” The only one who didn’t consider it insane was Earl Johnson, who at 83 still rows daily. It’s telling that in all the calls, we would reminisce about Beach Crew first and then talk about kids and careers.

The regatta turned out to be a race, not an exhibition. I lied. Hearing about our boat, a 1974 alumni boat pulled together eight 50 and overs at the last minute to challenge us. We took a handicap by jumping the start. Greg Kelley, the four-year varsity coxswain belted out commands as if he was in a ’60-’70s time warp. We lost by several hundred meters to the novice crew, but beat the younger 50-and-over boat, by open water.

It was physically challenging. I can safely say that we didn’t get the glide or hypnotic concentration we enjoyed as former athletes. We did, however, successfully bring back the camaraderie, and had a hell of a lot of fun. Those living in the area now get together on the first Saturday of every month to relive Beach Crew with an alumni row.

Long Beach State President King Alexander, who rowed during his years at Oxford, came down to meet with BCA and show his support.

Rowing at Long Beach was my best take-away from college. A black and white 1970 crew photo hangs prominently over my desk. I don’t have a clue as to where my two LB diplomas are.

To learn more, see the accompanying article Alums Row on to Support Beach Crew.

Dave Straley (1970, B.A.; 1974, M.A., economics) is a certified public accountant and principal of Third Creek, an investment, accounting and venture capital firm that also funds a foundation to support socially responsible local and international charities.