The old race

The first ever intercollegiate competition began with rowing. In 1852, Yale challenged Harvard to a rowing race along the Thames River in Connecticut, and although the Bulldogs lost the race, time has ranked the sons and daughters of Eli consistently among the best in the nation. This year, the Yale women’s crew team is second in the nation behind UC Berkeley and is the defending NCAA National Champion.

Different leagues, same great tradition

Men’s rowing traces its history back to 1843, when Yale founded the first college boat club in the United States. The men’s rowing team is divided between the lightweight rowers and heavyweight rowers. Men’s rowing is not part of the NCAA because it was founded before the NCAA and is instead a part of the older Intercollegiate Rowing Association, founded in 1895. The men’s team also has independent funding from alumni, giving it more liberty than other rowing teams. Women’s rowing started in 1972, after NCAA rowing was founded, meaning the team must follow NCAA regulations.

It’s all about the legs

A common misconception about rowing is that it requires strong arms above all else. But effective rowing involves driving down with the legs and then following through with the back and arms in order to move the oar through the water. The average rower is taller than most people, which makes it easier to propel the boat forward with a long stroke.

A year-round competition

Rowing has three official seasons — fall, winter and spring — but most athletes continue to train in the summer. In the fall, rowers compete in longer head races, which wind for about three miles down the race course. The fall season is typically less competitive, as the races do not count toward the national standings.

Winter does not feature any races, so Yale rowers use this time to prepare for the competition in spring. In the winter, for example, female rowers work out 10 hours per week as a team because of NCAA restrictions, practicing in Payne Whitney Gym in a rowing tank that simulates the movement of rivers. This winter, Tess Gerrand ’10 beat out every other female rower in the world by winning both the collegiate and open divisions of C.R.A.S.H.-B World Indoor Rowing Championships

Short but intense season

During the spring, the men’s heavy and lightweight teams and the women’s team compete nationally. There are about six races each spring, typically against one or two opponents at a time. All three crew teams continue racing long after most Yalies have left New Haven. Women’s NCAA national rowing championships take place from May 30 until June 1, the men’s lightweights participate in the IRA Regatta June 7 and the men’s heavyweights face Harvard on June 14.

Dart away and 2K

Spring races run 2,000 meters in a straight line. Crews begin each race at an elevated stroke rating and then settle to a race rating a little more than 100 meters in. Throughout the race, rowers sometimes take several “power tens” — bursts of 10 strokes with an extra burst of intensity — before they bring up their strokes per minute for a sprint in the last several hundred meters of the race.

Shower stalls, please

In 1972, the U.S. Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments, which guaranteed equal funding for men’s and women’s sports teams.

Four years later, on March 3, 1976, Yale’s women’s crew team staged a protest to demand implementation of the measure. Angered that they did not yet have their own shower stalls, 19 female rowers, led by Chris Ernst ’76, walked naked into the office of Director of Athletics Joni Barnett. Written on their bare chests and backs in bold letters was “Title IX.” The nation soon became aware of this heroic gesture because of photographs leaked to the media, and the women’s team got its own facilities.

Golden Gilder

Oct. 21, 2000, the University dedicated the $7.5-million Gilder Boathouse — named after former Yalie and Olympic Rower Virginia Gilder ’79 — along the Housatonic River. The building is large enough to include office space for the coaches, a trophy room, locker rooms for all three teams and a lounge and meeting space for the teams. Many Yale rowers consider it the most beautiful boathouse in the Ivy League.