Alumni & History


In the fall of 1974, O’Rourk Swinney came to Humboldt County and saw a beautiful protected bay with no rowing team around. With the help of Jack Donaldson, O’Rourk hatched the idea to start a team and began putting fliers around the Humboldt State University campus advertising a rowing team. There was no boathouse, no boats, no oars, and no rowing machines to practice with yet, but the men showed up and met for conditioning workouts on the track for the first semester. In the spring of 1975 two used boats were purchased and O’Rourk was able to talk Kaiser Gypsum Company into letting them store the shells in their warehouse, which was located where the Adorni Center is now. The train tracks ran right between the building and the waterfront, so when trains were parked at the station, the men would have to go up and over heads and weave the boat through the train cars to access the waterfront. To launch the boats, the crew had to carefully walk down the rocks and do a beach-launch in the mud. There was no dock and the mud was too deep to walk on, so practices had to be timed at the high tides. This meant sometimes launching at midnight or 3am, whenever the water was high enough. After these late night practices, the crew would schlep off to Don’s Doughnuts for some hot coffee and pastries. By the summer of 1979, HSU Men’s Crew had grown and become a competitive squad and decided to head to the east coast for some big league racing. On May 27, 1979, eleven men piled into a retired ambulance, which pulled their trailer, and a utility van and set out on what they believed to be an eight week tour. Little did they know, the trip would last the entire summer. The team had been invited to compete at the International Rowing Championships in Syracuse, NY and drove all 3,000 miles to get there, where they finished sixth. From New York, the crew drove to Princeton, NJ where the Pan American Rowing Trials were being held and raced their 4+, but did not qualify. The crew headed off to visit Yale in Connecticut, then Washington DC to row the Potomac River for a week, and eventually arrived in Philadelphia, PA where the Independence Day Regatta was being held. HSU Crew captured second and fourth in their 4+ races and went on to win gold in the 8+ the next weekend at Commodore Regatta. Finally, the crew drove north and crossed the border into Canada for the Royal Canadian Henley where they finished second in the 4+. Nearly 12,000 miles of driving later, the HSU Men’s Crew had stayed in boathouses all over the country and raced up and down the east coast.

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