Monday, 19 March 2018

| journal | 2018 | 03 | 19 | monday | henley regatta |

Have you ever been to Henley?


The regatta I mean?

I think you should. I'll take you. It's a one of a kind event.

Everyone there knows how ridiculous it is. The pomp. The over the top dress code and over exaggerated accents. The excuse to dress and play nice for a day. It's just. Nice.

It's a huge deal in the rowing world - where international giants clash in a weird knock out event where really, there are only losers. There's no '6th' just 'which day did you make it to?'

Crews are spoken of in terms of their seeding (you can pretty much guess the outcomes until Saturday) but that doesn't stop the tension.

the atmosphere is incredible. 

- - -

If you've never competed at this event, there isn't one like it. Every crew has a send off, complete with claps, obligatory photographs outside the boat tents and the quiet moment before push off.

You're standing where people have stood for hundreds of years, going through the same motions to compete for the prestigious silverware, inscribed with the names of long forgotten champions. Dominated by the wealthy, underdog crews get a taste of it on the Wednesday, but beyond that you'll only hear the names of the top schoolboys floating around.

Weights are published in the programme, to which you'll hear tuts or delight at the 'six man' being massive or the cox being a little stodgy.

If you're lucky, you can watch the racing from inside the stewards enclosure. Where the primary aim is to drink as much of the watered down pimms on tap as possible. The grandstands are only filled for the big races, or just if there's a real challenge going down.

Each day is different too.

Wednesday is where the big boys squash the new kids. There are rarely close races, just a three length lead and a cruise. The boat tents are exciting, full of boats, blades, people and kit. It's so cool. That bit is my favourite of the enclosures. You watch the nerves set in, the mind games come into play.

Thursday. Still dominated by seeded crews, they'll be calmer and a bit more conservative. It's a little harder today.

Friday. This is where you'll see bigger pushes and stronger challenges. Crews want to make it to the weekend, so they'll go for it. All or nothing.

Saturday is my favourite day. The race pre final, there's an air or of do it or die. There are tears, there's calls at the enclosure. There's showing off. There's also a lack of certainty. Saturday is the day where anything can happen.

Sunday

They made it. Two crews from each event. Racing is spread out and intense. 5 races in 5 days tests fitness and tolerance. The knock out nature makes this race the most painful of them all. No one remembers the ones that came second. The boat tent is quiet, everyone else has packed up. Everyone else has gone.

And then. It is done.

The quiet after it all.

Me and dad used to go for a long walk to Henley the weekend after, where everyone is hard at work pulling the structures down. It's all for this one week. 

Even if you're not a rower. Even if you think it's silly. It's still something to go and see.

Back to why I actually went on a Wednesday. I haven't for years.

My dads club had a prequalified crew (the first in 20 years) and that's quite a big deal.



There was pride.  They're essentially a composite crew, with barely any experience between them (most started rowing at university) so the majority of their competing races have been run by my dad. 


The pep these boys were a bag of nerves. They're just so new to it. 


When you look at the size difference here, the race outcome is even more apparent. 

There's not a lot you can do against men who are career rowers and have just under 2 stone on you. Big boys. 


But they went out there, and represented in the only way they could. They did their best. They had a good race. And they broke the 20 year streak. They proved to themselves that a crew could go to Henley from those kind of beginnings. It won't be long I'm sure, until there is another. 


6 miles of walking later I was ready to take off my shoes. 

It's all fun and games until you have to go home.. 


I also. Kind of did the tourist thing. 

Because.

I'm ashamed of myself. 



I'm not done yet. I'm going on Saturday too. It should be quite nice.