UCSB Crew Rows Its Way to Its 50th Anniversary


Marissa J. Martin 

The Mosher Alumni House, backdropped by the Santa Ynez mountains, buzzes with chatter, clinking cups, and laughter. Generations of University of California, Santa Barbara’s finest athletes—rowers—mingle on the Plaza level and reminisce over rowing team memories. The crew team’s 50th anniversary was celebrated by alumni, coaches, and current rowers alike over the weekend. The highlight of the weekend was the night of Saturday, April 18, when a dinner and award banquet was held at the Pavillion Gym, preceded by a cocktail reception at the Mosher House.

When a handful of students in 1965 decided to start not only UCSB’s first crew team but also the first club sport, they could not have possibly imagined its immense success and prestige 50 years later. This year alone, the team has placed at several competitions, including the San Diego Crew Classic (March 28-29, 2015), where both the men and women’s varsity teams placed first in their respective divisions, as did a men’s novice team.

First-year biology major and current rower Jake Halsley pulls up a national ranking list and proudly points to where UCSB’s men’s novice team sits at second place, right behind Orange Coast College. He looks downs and chuckles. “When this came out, I put it on my wall so that every morning I could see it and be motivated to get up and go to practice,” he said.

“We are definitely at a good part of the program’s history right now as far as wins and losses go,” said Men’s Novice Coach Nate Clark, a UCSB alumnus who earned his English degree in 2014.

However, this wide success and recognition for the team has not always been the case. In fact, it has taken those 50 years for the program to be where it is today. 

“The team had humble beginnings and has been through a flux,” said Clark. “There have been times where there was practically no one on the team and [it] has been very slow.” 

UCSB’s Crew team was off to a rocky start, according to Bob Kelley, who graduated in 1968 and was one of the “founding fathers” of the club. In his acceptance speech for the Pioneer Hall of Fame Award at the dinner banquet, he outlined the club’s history. In the beginning, there were few men on the team and they not only became self-taught rowers, but they were also in need of financial support. Boats, or shells, run in the several thousands price-wise, and the sport notoriously requires expensive and heavy equipment. The club borrowed used boats from other schools, such as University of Southern California, until they were eventually able to afford their own through private donations.  

It was a student-run organization known as “Shell and Oar,” a grassroots group of about 50 or 60 female college students, who provided much-needed moral and financial support to the all-male team. They were also the early beginnings of the women’s rowing team. 

Alice Matraw-Sachs, who attended UCSB from 1967-1969, and Lindsey Stewart-Hinds, who graduated in 1970, were both “Shell and Oar” girls who held weekly fundraisers to get the team up and going financially. They also provided support by essentially cheering for UCSB at races. Both of them remember their days as “Shell and Oar” girls fondly. However, Matraw-Sachs stresses the absolute importance of the club’s history and its eventual evolution into the women’s team. 

“We never rowed on the team and honestly, as a woman, I felt short-changed,” Matraw-Sachs says. “But today I am very, very proud of the women that have stepped up and have created their team, and that they are rowing as well and that they are are as important as the men. It wasn’t that way when we went to school and it’s very nice to see things evolve to that level.” 

Without the evolution of a women’s rowing team after 50 years, the world would not have Amy Fuller, UCSB Crew alumni and Olympic athlete, and her many achievements as a nationally-lauded rower. Tatiana Rocha, a third-year geography major, and Coral Kasden, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in cell and developmental biology, would have never had the unique and life-changing experiences, as they describe it, of being part of the UCSB rowing team. 

Alumni, coaches, and current rowers all equally stressed this unique and deep experience of being on the team. As time and commitment are essential to its success, the team fosters in its rowers and coxswains an extraordinary work ethic and determination, among other qualities. Consequently, it has produced a wide range of professionals and successful Gauchos such as John Pinkel, a 1985 applied mathematics graduate, who credits the skills he gained from UCSB rowing for his success as a hedge-fund manager. 

Rowers like Halsley showcase this incredible drive and commitment to other team members when he admits that some of his most physically painful and mentally challenging moments have been on the team, and that “you want to stop but you just can’t because something pulls you back. We are pushing for everyone before us and everyone after us.” 

“If you’re talking wins and losses, the [original team wasn’t] remarkably successful,” said Clark. “But they’re more successful in the long run than anyone who is on the team now because of what they started—this legacy.”