As a kid, I remember summers used to last forever. With no schoolwork or rules to bind us, we were free to play during the long days and warm evenings. (It's my memory and I'm having warm evenings!)
We were carefree and enjoying the time where we weren't bound to a schedule. Yet, even though we didn't care about time, we always wished it away.
"I can't wait until I'm 10," someone would invariably say as a six-year-old." Or, "I can't wait until I'm old enough to go to the park by myself." It wasn't that we were in a hurry; it's just that we seemed to reach for things that were far away.
The Regatta was like that for a kid growing up in Outer Cove. As soon as school closed its doors, we waited in anticipation for the Regatta. (I capitalize it, but these memories are long before the Royal prefix was added in 1993.) The Regatta was the highlight of the summer. It was also, the adults used to say, the end of summer, as the weather invariably got colder once the annual Day at the Races had come and gone.
Unfortunately, these days, the excitement over the Regatta has also come and gone. Yes it's still a day where thousands of people flock to Quidi Vidi Lake to purchase cotton candy, play some games of chance, let the kids try some acrobatics or bouncy castle rides and enjoy the holiday. But the Day at the Races is no longer a day at the races.
Glorified garden party
The Regatta — now Royal — is now little more than a glorified garden party. I'm hardly the first columnist to state this, but the fact is the importance of the Regatta in the summer's sport schedule is minimized.
There is no reason now for rowing fans to get to the pond to watch the races. The day, while still undoubtedly competitive and an arduous task for those in the shells, has lost its lustre in the sports world. It holds no special place in the sports calendar anymore.
And the problem is because there is no reason now to face the pond. Nothing on the pond is worth paying attention to. It's been spiralling downward for the past decade or so, yet nobody seems to have an answer on how to stop the slide. Outside of the top two races of the day, there's no great reason to watch.
I remember 1981 like it was yesterday. A young student at the time, I had a summer job that forced me to work Regatta Day. I was dumbfounded! Smith Stockley was on the verge of racing history, and I was delivering pencils and notepads to various nurses’ stations.
Through much cajoling and extra effort in the morning, I snuck out around noon, and got to Quidi Vidi in time to witness the blue sky go grey, the pond go "black calm" and Stockley — rowing under the banner of St. John's Boys and Girls Club — break the historic 9:13, finishing in 9:12.04.
The number kept dropping over the next 20 years, to where it sits today, at 8:51.32 — set in 2007 by Crosbie Industrial.
Elite crews disappearing
There was a reason to be facing the pond back then.
Times have gotten slower, and the elite crews have been disappearing. Now the majority of races are of interest only to the family and friends of the women (and a few men) who bother.
And for many of these crews, it's more a recreational/social activity, than a purely competitive one. Rowing is great for people to get in shape during the summer; great for getting out and meeting people and making new friends.
But where are the next generation of great rowers like John Barrington, Campbell Feehan, Siobhan Duff and Ann Marie Tobin? Where are the rivalries like OZ-FM and Keyin Tech; Outer Cove and Smith Stockley; the firemen and wardens and cops?
The bigger problem is apathy. Nobody cares anymore. Flocking to Quidi Vidi only to keep your back to the pond doesn't make it a sporting event.
There are still a few great oarsmen pondside. I believe when they're finished, the Cadigan boys — James and Daniel — will, along with Brent Hickey and a few others, be regarded as among the best on the pond.
Techniques, coaching and the equipment have all improved, but what does it matter now?
The bigger problem is apathy. Nobody cares anymore. Flocking to Quidi Vidi only to keep your back to the pond doesn't make it a sporting event. Maybe next year, Frank Fagan can postpone his event at Government House for a week or so, and make the Regatta the biggest garden party ever hosted by the Lieutenant-Governor.
Because at it stands now — and it doesn't appear to be changing any time soon — the Regatta is a non-event, from a sporting perspective.
Anything that is over by 9 a.m. — your local Morning Show excluded — is hardly worth paying attention to. And that's the sad reality.
Follow Don Power on Twitter @PowerPlay27