Words and Photos By Kevin O’Brien, News Director – The Long Beach Union Weekly
I spent the morning zipping around Alamitos Bay in a little motorboat, watching the men and women of the Long Beach Rowing team glide up and down the marina. The wind was numbing and the sun would not rise for another half hour, but they powered on, rowing their boats in quick synchronicity like human machinery. Their speed, strength, and control was impressive, especially considering that it was all happening at 5:45 in the morning before the majority of CSULB students had even woken up and reached for their first guarana and caffeine infused morning cocktail.
After practice they brought the boats up onto the dock to wash off the saltwater. I caught up with Dustin Hardin, a rower for the men’s varsity team, “It’s definitely been a life changing experience. Crew is actually the very first sport I have done and it’s been a blast, just to have the camaraderie and the relationships I have created with friends and to have developed that competitive edge.” I found this sentiment of fun, fraternity, and competition reiterated—never verbatim—as I met and spoke with various members of the Long Beach Rowing team, more commonly known as Beach Crew. Hardin continued, “Crew is a blast, especially if you’re trying to find a niche. I didn’t really feel a part of the school until I joined Crew. I was always involved in my studies, but I needed to do something else to make my time in college more fun. Not only did I get in really good shape, but also I made good friendships along the way. It’s definitely made my college experience worthwhile.”
Beach Crew has brought meaning and purpose to CSULB student’s lives for over 50 years. The program celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, making Beach Crew the oldest athletic program on campus. Each year Beach Crew takes some 50 walk-ons for the men and women’s novice crews. Those with little to no experience are more than welcome. Through a rigorous practice regimen they are trained and prepared from 5:30am to 7:30am six days a week. A transition that requires discipline and dedication, but is eased with the competitive drive that seems to be indicative of rowers. Laura Mellen, a rower for the women’s varsity team explained how she became involved with crew, “Well, I started off and I didn’t know if I was going to do it because it was so early, and then I met all of the girls and made super good friends with them and now I’m super competitive with [Crew] and am really trying to get better. We work out at practice here and a lot of the girls will try to work out outside of school and practice in-between classes because we are really trying to get competitive with it.”
That competitive drive is not only what brings people to row for the Beach Crew, but also what sustains them through their years in the program. Hardin described his first year. “My novice year was a lot of fun, just learning the ropes and now my varsity year we have really stepped up the competition and I’m looking forward to my last couple of months here. I graduate in May, so I’m trying to make it as much fun as I can before I can’t row anymore.”
All this practice and training is put in with the goal of winning races and competing in the nationals, but winning is not the ultimate goal for the members of Beach Crew, it’s just the mean. Theirs is a deeper and more significant purpose of self-enrichment that goes beyond the sport itself. Daniel Harris, head coach of the women’s team, clarified this point. Harris stated, “The sport is one thing but the skills and technique and form and discipline help the sport transcend into life. The sport takes so much dedication that it literally comes to the points where when you finish a race you want to pass out or throw up. But you’re doing that in joy, which sounds like an oxymoron but you’re feeling joy because you known that you and your teammates gave it their all. That is where the communion and the union form.” Harris continued to talk about how the sense of community on the team creates a network of support that extends beyond the sport into each rower’s life. “Once [the girls] have a little bit of success they want more and they want more, so I have to keep inventing new goals, new higher standards, so now I can say ‘These are attainable, do you see that this is attainable?’ You are going to think things in life are so hard, but because of what you did in this sport you are going to be like ‘I can do that, I can go get that job, I can go for the senate race, I can do something with the community, I can actually complete school and get the first degree in my family.'”
Harris went on to explain that each member of the team is held responsible for their performance in the classroom just as they are held responsible for their performance on the water. Harris explained how satisfying it was to see the academic, athletic and social aspects of his rowers’ lives come together successfully. Harris stated, “When it clicks, when it clicks on the water, when it clicks on the ergometer, when it clicks in the friendships and the relationships, it’s beautiful to watch because you know it’s going to last a lifetime.”
The men and women of Beach Crew will be participating in a variety of races and scrimmages in the coming weeks and months. Events include a scrimmage against Loyola Marymount on March 20th at the Alamitos Bay Marine Stadium in Long Beach. The team will also be traveling up to Vancouver, Washington, to compete in the North West Collegiate Rowing Regatta (NCRC) between April 2nd through the 4th.
I would urge you to make it out to a race, but if you are a freshman or a sophomore, or are attending this school and feel a lack of place or purpose I would urge you to try out Beach Crew. What I came to discover is the Beach Crew offers students fraternity and sorority in its purist form, men and women working together to become stronger mentally, emotionally and physically.