The Pensacola Rowing Club was founded last year and continues to meet. The club practices in Bayou Texar by Bayview Park in Pensacola. Brendan O’Brien is club president and a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. He has been a Pensacola resident for ten years.
“As I drive onto the Navy base every day, I’ve got to come over the bridge over Bayou Grande, and every day I look at this gorgeous flat water and I wonder why we haven’t had any boats on it. There isn’t any rowing, competitive or recreational rowing, here in the Panhandle. I finally just kinda got sick of it.,” O’Brien said.
The fledgling club obtained used boats to start the club with assistance from the Gainesville Rowing Club. The boats were transported to Pensacola, and the club hosted its first “Learn to Row Day” on July 20, 2013. Flight students at the Naval Academy, who had rowed in college, helped unload the boats and coach. Three boats and twenty rowing machines were available for participants to use.
“People would learn the mechanics of rowing on the rowing machines,” O’Brien said. “Then they would take a look at boat pieces and parts and learn some of the language of rowing. And then we put people in a boat and took them out for half an hour, forty-five minutes of rowing.”
“Learn to Row” days take place every second Saturday of the month. Seventy people were in attendance for the first event, and nearly sixty were present at the second.
“The third, and fourth, and fifth, we got a little bit smarter about how we were going to do it, and we scheduled people on hour increments. We had four sessions, nine, ten, eleven and twelve. So the numbers went down, but they were less chaotic and probably more beneficial to the folks that were coming out to row,” O’Brien said.
The City of Pensacola Parks and Recreation Department allows the rowing club to share space in the kayak storage area in Bayview Park. It takes the entire team to move the sixty-foot boat out of the storage area into the water. The boat seats eight, but six people were in attendance at this practice.
The club currently rows in co-ed boats. Most of the members are women. One member is Sarah Behn, who began rowing with the club in August. She had previously rowed individually, in a one-man boat with two oars, and not as the Pensacola Rowing Club practices, where each rower has one oar and there are several to a boat.
“It’s building teamwork. It also creates a social environment, ‘cause I’m not really from here. It’s nice because you get to come out and meet people who are like-minded and enjoy the same sorts of things,” Behn said.
Behn says the club meets for two lessons weekly, and open rowing sessions are also available to members. Alex Odom attends Gulf Shores High School in Alabama, and travels to Pensacola on weekends for practices. He has been practicing with the club since July.
“This is like really fun,” Odom said. “I mean, it’s a good workout but it’s a fun team sport. It’s every weekend, so I always have something to do. It’s nice to be out on the water.”
Again, club president O’Brien said he intends to build a competitive rowing team in Pensacola.
“My stated goal has always been to create a rowing legacy here in Pensacola, and the only real way to do that is to bring competition here,” O’Brien said.
He hopes that high schools and local colleges will begin to offer the sport in the future. The club plans to hold a race in Bayou Texar this spring.
More information about the club is available on the Pensacola Rowing Club Facebook page.
Katya Ivanov, WUWF News