This Saturday the river downtown will stir with boats competing in the Head of the Brazos Regatta. The tournament is hosted by Baylor’s crew team and will stretch from Cameron Park to the Ferrell Center. It’s the first time the competition has happened in nearly ten years.
It’s 6:00 in the morning and I’m late. I’m sitting in on a practice for Baylor’s crew team, but most of the team is already out on the river, running drills a couple miles up stream. Brennan Fink, who’s a Baylor senior and also the team’s head coach, is showing me some of the improvements that the team has made in advance of this weekend’s regatta—they’ve built a second dock and a new path down to the river.
"This is it before last weekend this was just a slope full of poison ivy," Fink says. "We had about ten guys or so come out with shovels. Kind of even out the slope as best as possible."
The regatta will feature about 200 boats from twenty different clubs in the region. This weekend’s competition is a head race, which means boats race individually for time, not right next to each other. A new boat will start the race every ten seconds or so, the fastest boat wins the gold.
Fink says hosting the regatta is part of a larger project of making the team competitive again.
"We haven’t had a legitimate Head of the Brazos since before I was a student, 2006-7 at least, Fink says. "Yeah we want to revive a lot of the old stuff that we started when we first became a club. We’re trying to bring back the competitive atmosphere when it was first founded."
It’s 6:15 and a group of girls on the team have just returned from a run. Four girls lift a boat, or shell, off of the rack to the orders of Jackie Wyper, an assistant coach. They then march the shell to the river and lower it into the water. Not a bad workout and the sun isn’t even up yet.
Katherine White is a sophomore, she says part of the sport’s appeal is the tough image it comes along with.
"It’s crazy to be out at 5 am, but it’s also awesome," White says. "Your friends, the people you know and who meet you be like “oh I do crew” and they’re always like oh that’s awesome, you’re so tough. It’s just something to be proud of to be like you can get up at 5 A.M. everyday and workout and survive."
The team normally practices on a stretch of river that goes from Cameron Park to the Ferrell center, but they had to alter their route while McLane Stadium was getting built. White’s happy the construction is over, practice runs a little more smoothly now.
"So we’d have to row down and turn around real fast and then row back to practice," White said. "And so now that’s out of the way it’s so nice. We row all the way down to the 5k mark and it’s like amazing. Especially because it’s really fun to pass the stadium because it’s new and looks beautiful."
Races run from 8:30 in the morning through 1:00 in the afternoon this Saturday. Spectators can watch the race at any point along the river between the Herring Street Bridge and LaSalle Street Bridge. The crew team says the best view might be on the new pedestrian bridge that goes from campus to the stadium.