Pacific Rowing Club Host Regatta on Lake Merced

By Debra Holcomb

More than 300 crews from around the Bay Area and as far away as Newport Beach descended upon Lake Merced on March 12 for the seventh annual Pacific Invitational Regatta after a two-year hiatus.   

The 1,750-meter sprint course attracted rowers of all ages and abilities to compete in 48 events for adaptive athletes, middle school youth, high schoolers and adults. Rowers could compete in a variety of races, from single boats to boats with eight rowers and a coxswain at the USRowing-sanctioned event. With nearly 1,000 athletes competing, it is the largest rowing event in San Francisco. 

 Rowers lift their shell out of the water and overheads to carry up the dock as other boats line up to dock behind them. Photo by Peter Dvorak.

What looked like chaos was actually carefully timed precision that allowed rowers to carry their boats and oars from the staging area across Harding Road, down a steep driveway, and onto the narrow docks on Lake Merced. As the dockmaster directed crews in and out of the launch area, crews carried boats on their shoulders, walked backward and tipped boats on their sides to fit through the narrow gates at the dock while taking care not to hit onlookers with riggers.  

Once at the dock, in unison, the crew lifted their shell over their heads with one hand on each gunnel, rolled the boat slowly to waist height then gently placed the boat in the water careful not to bump the skeg or rudder on the dock. With one foot in the boat, the teams sit down in their seats, slip their feet into the foot stretchers, push off the dock, and begin their paddle on the lake.  

Photo by Peter Dvorak.

After warm-up drills, the teams headed to the start. The boats were lined up in their lanes at an imaginary line. The rowers sat ready at attention. When the referee dropped the flag and yelled go, all crews took their first stroke to get off to a quick start.  

What looks graceful, synchronized and smooth to spectators are burning quads as rowers push their seats back, snap their knees down and drive the oar through the water accelerating the boat forward as they roll their seat up with control to take their next stroke.  Lungs on fire, rowers repeat stroke after stroke until the boat crosses the finish line and the coxswain calls weigh ‘nough.  

Photo by Peter Dvorak.

In the first races held for adult rowers in the history of this event, the Pacific’s Men’s Masters Quad, with an average rower age of 53, consisting of Dan Newman (Cole Valley), Chip Moreland (Inner Richmond), Andrew Ballantyne Sr., (West Highlands), and David Milner (Inner Richmond), took first place, beating teams half their age. In addition, the Pacific Rowing Club took top honors in three youth men’s and three youth women’s events. 

“We love hosting this regatta every year, and this year is certainly no exception,” said Board Chairman Mike Knapp of Napa.  “We certainly appreciate all the teams that travel here to compete and hope that they had a great experience. We really couldn’t do it without our dedicated coaching staff and parent volunteers. Pacific Rowing Club is part of a tremendous Lake Merced rowing community, and regattas like this are important indicators of the vitality that the sport enjoys in San Francisco.”  

Knapp started his rowing career as a high schooler in Duxbury, Massachusetts. He rowed at Dartmouth College and coached at Pacific Rowing Club until 2017.

Sculling blades. Photo by Peter Dvorak.

Founded in 1980, Pacific Rowing Club (PRC) is dedicated to providing the finest rowing experience possible in an inclusive, supportive, and safe environment for youth and adults.  In partnership with our community, it prepares young athletes for life, through lessons learned both on and off the water.

Rowing has been described as the “ultimate team sport” because each rower’s individual effort, no matter how great, must harmonize with that of every other rower to create the smooth, synchronous flow of a winning boat.

Photo by Peter Dvorak.

Successful rowers develop a deep practical understanding of the power of teamwork. They learn to build and perform as a team, and they learn to deal with the common obstacles and snags that impede teamwork. Rowers learn a kind of mental discipline that serves them well in any endeavor they may undertake.

Pacific Rowing Club is comprised of middle school and high school youth from the San Francisco Unified School District and other city schools.  PRC graduates have been recruited to row and accepted at prestigious universities and colleges all across the country, including elite Ivy League schools, the UCs, multiple Cal State universities, U.S. Marine Corps, and many, many more.  

Photo by Peter Dvorak.

Registration for youth summer camps is now open. The Master Program, with members between ages 26 and 80, began last fall and is recruiting rowers and coxswains to join its four- and eight-person boats. To learn more about the Pacific Rowing Club, go to

Photo by Peter Dvorak.

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