Rowing’s Holy Grail, the Head Of The Charles Regatta, will kick off its 50th running on October 17, 2014, capping the race’s fascinating and improbable rise over the past half-century.
It is as classic and iconic as a Brooks Brothers navy blazer. It has been the standard setter, imitated frequently, but never equaled. Talk to rowers anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you about the time they rowed in the Head Of The Charles Regatta—or the day they hope to. The event celebrates its 50th running this October, in what is now the biggest two-day regatta in the world.
It all started in 1965 when a group of Cambridge Boat Club rowers decided that rowing, always a spring and summer sport in so far as racing was concerned, could also be a fall sport. October days are glorious ones on the Charles River.
As the Official Apparel Sponsor of the Head Of The Charles, Brooks Brothers outfits more than 2,000 volunteers, staff members and race officials.
So the Cambridge Boat Club organizers planned a regatta for mid-October, and invited the rest of the rowing world to join them. Now it has become rowing’s Holy Grail, a destination and a goal for rowers of all ages and skill levels. Winning the Head Of The Charles is something every elite sculler and crew believes is necessary to cap off a successful rowing career or bookend that once-in-a-generation storybook season.
The event has become so wildly popular that organizers instituted a complex entry lottery system. Still, they turn away countless disappointed applicants every year. Those 89 boats and 289 athletes from the first regatta have grown to 2,300 boats and over 11,000 athletes this year, with another 1,000 boats and more than 4,000 rowers turned away.
Meanwhile, the regatta has helped to transform the sport beyond Boston’s shores. Fall racing and head racing were largely unheard of before the Head Of The Charles. Now, there are several dozen head races across America on any given weekend from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Before the Head Of The Charles, rowing was steeped in a rich history, but hardly an egalitarian endeavor. The sport was confined to a handful of colleges, prep schools and elite rowing clubs. Over the past half-century, however, hundreds of colleges and thousands of high schools have added rowing to their athletic offerings, and there’s been an explosion of new community-based, learn-to-row programs across the country.
And they all want to be a part of this historic event—at once a formidable logistical challenge and a dream come true for executive director Schoch. There has long been talk about adding a third day, and options for shopping, eating and other events on the riverbank continue to expand. As the regatta begins its second 50 years, Schoch sees his role quite clearly. “My job is to continue to make this a world-class experience for everyone, both on and off the water.”
Charles Fountain is a rower, writer and journalism professor. His book on the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball, was published by Oxford University Press.
The Head Of The Charles Regatta will be held October 17–19, 2014. Visit our tents along the river for a selection of limited-edition Brooks Brothers HOCR apparel, including special pieces commemorating the 50th anniversary.