crew 101

Also known as “rowing” outside the United States, crew is the sport of rowing a long and thin, almost arrow-like boat called a shell, through mild or calm water. Unlike kayaking or canoeing, in rowing the oar is fixed and swivels. The rower faces the back, also known as the stern, of the shell. Rowers are aligned front-to-back, not side-by-side like you might imagine from depictions of old Viking ships.

Rowing has been essential to civilization for thousands of years. Along with the power of wind and sail, rowing was the major propulsive force for any seafaring vessel as far back as ancient Egypt.

The modern sport was born in England, beginning as races between ferries on the River Thames in the late-17th and early-18th centuries. Prizes were offered by local riverside establishments, and within years there were competitions on other English rivers. Clubs sprang up, followed by amateur participation, and eventually intercollegiate teams faced each other. 

An 1829 race between Oxford and Cambridge universities was the second ever intercollegiate sports competition — the first was a cricket match. In the United States, a crew competition in 1852 between Harvard and Yale was the first intercollegiate sporting event between two schools on American soil, er, water. The Harvard-Yale Regatta is still contested every year and has been since its inception, except for times of war.

The sport has been contested at the modern Olympic Games, with the exception of the first Games in 1896 due to a canceled competition because of poor weather.

For further information on the history of rowing, check out the History of Men's Rowing.