The inaugural Waco Rowing Regatta hosted by Waco Rowing Center will float through town on Sunday, bringing a widely loved sport to the Brazos River.
The event is expected to draw thousands of guests to Waco’s riverfront, with about 1,000 participants registered to race, said Matt Scheuritzel, rowing coach and executive director of the Waco Rowing Center.
“I think it’s going to be a really cool event; it’s basically a parade of boats going down the Brazos for one day,” Scheuritzel said.
The event runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting from McLane Stadium and ending at Brazos Park East. Spectators are welcome at the park, where admission is free and food trucks will be set up.
The inaugural event received a $45,000 grant in August from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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Scheuritzel said rowing has come to Texas in a big way, recalling the weekly regattas he used to attend in his native Philadelphia. He said Waco Rowing Center was the first rowing center in McLennan County, and the regatta — which he said is a fancy word for boat racing — will be the first of its kind in Waco.
“Nothing even close; there’s been smaller versions of this with two or three teams,” Scheuritzel said.
Race director, coach and former Olympian rower Luke Walton said there’s been an immense amount of planning to bring the pioneering event to Waco in such a big way, from registration, which closed Monday, to working with the city of Waco to utilize the Brazos River.
“Everyone’s been so open to rowing here and to learning more about it,” Walton said. “To have a rowing regatta this year of such a large magnitude is incredible.”
Walton said he’s thankful for the Waco community for being open to the event, city offices for helping make the event come to life and to the greater rowing community for being open to trying a different regatta.
The USRowing-sanctioned race has about 320 entries making up about 1,000 seats, which could be single races, fours or eights, Walton said. The entries come from 22 different clubs, many from Austin, Houston and Dallas but some ranging as far as Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Jersey, he said.
Waco-based teams participating this weekend include Baylor Crew and La Vega High School’s new rowing team, which operates under the Waco Rowing Center, Scheuritzel said.
La Vega High School Principal James Villa said getting the school’s rowing team competition ready has been a process since its inception at the end of the 2021-22 school year. He said Scheuritzel and Walton have been coaching and have communicated their commitment to developing the team, the Waco Rowing Center even donating 12 rowing machines to the school.
Villa said the greatest hurdle has been getting kids swim qualified through an eight-session course, which is required before students take the helm. However, the novelty of the sport captured the interest of many, and the student-to-student interaction of sharing positive experiences with swimming and rowing will create a pipeline of interest, he said.
Rowers at the regatta will range in skill level and age from young, novice athletes to collegiate, masters and elite rowers, Scheuritzel said. He said the 5,000-meter race starts at McLane Stadium and finishes opposite the bluffs at Brazos Park East, totaling some 3 miles.
Walton said different seasons take on different racing styles, fall being the time for head racing. Head races are time trials, in which the rowers are timed from start to finish. In this weekend’s regatta, Walton said boats will take off from the starting line in intervals of about 20 or 30 seconds.
Winners for each division are chosen based on fastest time, and winners will receive a medal as well as Dr Pepper memorabilia, Scheuritzel said.
The regatta couldn’t take place without a river to row on, and Walton, who used to work for San Diego Crew Classic, said he was tasked with scoping out Waco’s waterways.
“I was introduced to Waco back in February of this year,” Walton said. “I am, to this day, astounded with the water.”
Scheuritzel said Waco has some of the best bodies of water for rowing.
“The river is long, it’s calm, it’s flat, there’s not a ton of traffic on it,” he said. “It’s just this beautiful stretch of calm, flat water that goes on for miles and miles.”
Walton said the river has a lot of calm water, and the flow rate is low due to the river’s high banks and trees, setting the perfect conditions for rowing.
“More often than not it’s good water to row on,” Walton said.
There will be lots in store for friends, family members and attendees on land, Scheuritzel said, with food trucks, beer and wine and national and local vendors. There will even be a place for kids to sign up for free swimming lessons, swimming being an essential skill for a novice rower, Scheuritzel said.
The regatta-adjacent activities start Thursday with the Deep in the Heart Film Festival, which will show the award-winning film “A Most Beautiful Thing.” The film is based on the memoir by Arshay Cooper, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and became the captain of the country’s first all-Black high school rowing team.
Cooper, who Villa said introduced La Vega High School’s former principal to rowing, will also be in attendance at the screening alongside many La Vega students. Villa said Cooper was fascinated with bringing rowing and scholarship opportunities to La Vega, which serves a population of 92% economically disadvantaged students.
Friday marks the opening day of the Waco Rowing Center, with an opening event and boat dedication at 11 a.m. at Brazos Park East.