Spotlight: UCSB Rowing


It’s generally assumed that great college athletes are built in the years before they enter universities, that becoming members of nationally recognized university sports teams requires years of detailed planning and training in high school. Yet one nationally distinguished UCSB sports team has managed to draw the gaze of countless rival intercollegiate teams throughout the country, demanding no prior experience from its recruits.

That team is the UCSB Rowing team.

ucsb rowing article 1This phenomenon is perplexing. It speaks volumes about the quality of the team’s training programs and coaches, let alone the level of dedication and character in the students who make up the team. The students in UCSB crew are, for the most part, students who had never in their lives rowed before entering college. Yet UCSB crew is currently competing at the highest level for a club team (a university sport that is self-funded rather than university-funded).

The team is nearing its 50th anniversary, making it the oldest club sport on campus and predating more than a few of the school’s other intercollegiate sports. Not surprisingly, the team has even produced some Olympic rowers, including Amy Fuller Kearney, winner of several Olympic and world championship medals. Although periods of success have been laden with temporary struggles, such as having just one returning rower in 2008, the team always demonstrates resiliency and this, perhaps, is the reason for their continued growth in both numbers and athleticism.

“UCSB Rowing, by its very nature, is an underdog squad in California. We attend a university with a party reputation which does not necessarily accommodate the discipline and dedication that rowing requires. We have a 30-minute drive to a lake in a state that has been struck with drought and places our program in increasingly difficult situations on the water. We are not able to offer scholarships to attract high school rowers to UCSB. But while faced with all of these obstacles, UCSB rowing, for decades, has overcome them and achieved success. UCSB Rowing runs on pure dedication and determination. Addressing these situations as they come, without hesitation and without fear, keeps UCSB Rowing a prosperous program that shapes athletes and builds character.”
-Steven Watts, a fourth year rower studying Public Policy

ucsb rowing article 11Just this last season, the men’s team held 75 members strong, and the women’s team boasted 52. UCSB rowing has upheld its legacy of hard work and determination. In 2013, they won the Cal Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic. This past April, they swept the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association (WIRA) Championships in all the men’s 8’s. Most recently, at the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s Nationals (ACRA) in May, the team earned the Overall Points Trophy, taking first place in total team points for the men’s and women’s teams. Their tenacity has kept, and will continue to keep, other club rowing teams nervous for future competitive seasons.

“We’ve proven ourselves as a strong club team in the last few years and have gained some respect from other teams during this time. As a former recruiting officer, we’ve had more rowers contacting us than ever before in the past year. Our recent successes at San Diego Crew Classic and WIRA have not gone unnoticed. Some might consider us one of the strongest clubs in CA, as we can compete with varsity rowing programs such as USD, UCSD and Gonzaga.”
-Max Mercado, a fourth year rower studying Electrical Engineering


Clearly, coming to college with no previous rowing experience is not a deterrent from the chance to become a highly competitive student athlete on UCSB’s nationally recognized crew team. But this doesn’t mean that victory or membership will be easily kept. It seems only logical that the team does extremely intensive training to be able to keep their current ranking, and in fact, UCSB Crew is notoriously known for the severity of its workouts. Despite the continuously dropping water level of Lake Cachuma due to the drought, the UCSB crew team continues to hold its infamous early morning workouts on its waters.


ucsb_rowing_article_3“On the water at Lake Cachuma we focus on technique and preparing for our fall head-races which are over 5,000 meters long and can last from 15-20 minutes. During this time we focus on strength and endurance building, and lift heavier weights than during sprint season and row longer, less intense pieces. After winter break, in which we have an inter-squad competition to see who can work out the most, the training really ramps up. During this quarter, we focus on long pieces that are of fairly high intensity and often times are split up into intervals. We switch our weights plan to a circuit, and overall we build a lot of our cardio base during this quarter. On the water practice moves to 4-5 days a week at Cachuma and we focus on building our cardio and locking in boat lineups for opening day. Come spring sprint season, we row 5 or 6 days a week on the water at Lake Cachuma, depending upon whether or not we have a race that weekend. This is the season where all the hard work pays off.”
-Cody Bahr, a third year rower studying Economics and Accounting

Rowing is considered an extremely effective cardio workout. Many fitness professionals include the ergometer, an indoor rowing machine, in their workouts because it provides a workout that is rigorous and all-inclusive. Rowing burns a high amount of calories while being impact-free, meaning that it doesn’t pound or grind the body’s joints the way that running does. It’s also a great exercise for building strength because there are more discreet work/rest intervals as compared to other cardio exercises, which are generally more continuous. However, a common misconception about rowing is that it builds arm and back strength. In reality, these muscle groups are of course worked out, but the majority of a rower’s power comes from the quads and glutes. And although size is generally important in the competitive sport (the average US rower is 6’5 and 205 lbs.), this obviously is not a requirement to join the UCSB rowing team. It’s no wonder then that many UCSB rowers say they are in the best shape of their life since joining the team.


Dry Season

All UCSB rowers are expected to be completely dry for the entirety of spring quarter. In case you are unfamiliar with this term, it means that the entire UCSB rowing team must be completely alcohol and substance free at this time, regardless of their age. As students of a university with a party school reputation, this seems surprising and maybe even a little unbelievable. But the rowers claim that dry season is a real phenomenon for them, and that anyone who breaks this rule loses respect. Naturally, hardly anyone breaks this rule, ever.

“Dry season is a blessing in disguise. It sounds much harder than it actually is, because you’re all going through it together as a team.”
-Bella DiLisio, a second year rower studying Communication and minoring in Italian

Dry season at UCSB is a big deal, not only because of the demographics of the UCSB crew teams’ members (college students), but because not every club rowing team makes a point of being dry during racing season. It’s not surprising then, that dry season has an extremely positive impact on the quality of the relationships between teammates, but also on the quality of their workouts and their ability to perform on race day. Being dry increases a rower’s ability to focus on school and practice. This self-imposed adjournment from the UCSB party scene enables these students to focus on the reason they are here: school. A high-ranking university sport that encourages its athletes to concentrate on improving themselves not only in their sport, but also in their character and their academic career, is admirable.

“UCSB Rowing unlocked my drive to excel, especially in rowing, but also in all aspects of life. This, combined with the discipline that rowing cultivates, has absolutely made me into a better person. On top of all that, our coach promises all future rowers two things: first, that you will be in the best shape in your life. Second, that you will make friends that will last for the rest of your life. He hasn’t been wrong yet.”
-Sean Linley, a fourth year rower studying Mechanical Engineering

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How to Join

This year, the team can expect to recruit more members than ever before with an increasing reputation in the intercollegiate rowing world. In the fall, the team usually posts information and tables around campus. The team also has a website you can visit for more information:


Students are allowed to attend 3 weeks’ worth of practices before deciding whether or not they can, or want to, keep up. Rowing is a sport that rewards hard work, and having a readiness to do the work is a trait that the men’s team head coach, Desmond Stahl, is always looking for in new members.

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