Monday, October 31, 2016


On Sunday night, after all the racing was over, we convened for an awards ceremony at the Dock Café - one of Stillwater's top restaurants, with a beautiful view of the river.

Lots of talking, singing, and thanking were on the agenda,
and then there were the awards.

Here we see the medalists in the Tandem Sprint event.
From left to right:
Tim "Bepi" Reinard of Sunset Gondola
and John Kerschbaum of Minnesota's Gondola Romantica
Bronze medal

Hunter Mitchell and Jakob Easton of Gondola Adventures
Gold Medal

Alex "Alessandro" Haynes and Matt "Marcello" Haynes
of La Gondola in Providence, Rhode Island
Silver Medal

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bending Branches

Normally we all row in a slow and easy way,
transporting our passengers to a place of serenity and relaxation.

Our cruise routes are designed to last a specific amount of time,
and if a gondolier goes faster than he ought to,
well, he's gonna have to find a way to stay out on the water
for the rest of his allotted cruise time.

That's what we normally do.

But then, there's the US Gondola Nationals.
And there are very few things done in a "normal" way at Nationals.

Here we see Jakob Easton, rowing an empty boat,
as fast as he possibly can in order to win the Solo Sprint event.
The shortest time wins.
Jakob did win the gold in this event, but only by about a second and a half.

No, that oar isn't normally bent like you see it in the photo.
Some of these guys (and Jakob is a prime example),
pushed their oars very close to the point of snapping them.

We've seen broken oars in competition before,
but none were snapped this time around.
I'm sure the host - John Kerschbaum - is thankful for that.

Technically speaking, today's Venetian oar is not made from a branch, but rather the trunk section of a tropical hardwood.
But the title  "Bending the Trunk Section of a Tropical Hardwood" just didn't sound as catchy.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Two Crazy Surfers

Jakob and Hunter.
Two tall, fit, fun-loving gondoliers.

Both are beach-city transplants:
Jakob was born in Maine and grew up there and in Homer, Alaska.
Each summer he leaves Southern California 
to spend a few months working on fishing boats in Alaska.

Hunter is originally from Bakersfield, 
owns his own steam-cleaning business "Mr. Steam".
He rowed crew, and plays several instruments 
(including of all things...the harp).

They are roommates who share a love of surfing,
and, lucky for me, they both also work as gondoliers at my servizio in Newport Beach.

And while they are two of the nicest guys I've ever known,
I would hate to have to compete against these two.
They won gold in the Tandem Sprint and Tandem Obstacle Course events last weekend at the US Gondola Nationals.
Additionally they brought home medals in other races.

And yet, if you want to see who these two really are,
Well, just take a look at the above photo.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pizza Time!

In the middle of the day, on both Saturday and Sunday, 
we pushed pause on the US Gondola Nationals to refuel.

This year they served my favorite kind of pizza: free pizza!

Haynes Power

Coming in hot from their Tandem Distance run, 
the Haynes brothers showed their rowing prowess, 
and reminded us all of just how good a tandem team can be.

They have finished well in each race they've competed in as a team, 
taking the gold in 2014 in Providence.

This year Marcello and Alessandro grabbed the silver medal 
with a fast finish in Stillwater, Minnesota.

To read more about this duo, check out my post 
"Tandem Distance - the Brothers Haynes" .

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Rhythm of Rage

Towards the end of his Solo Distance run,
Michael Angelo Ruffino achieved a profound level of rage.

He'd been fighting the wind for nearly a mile.
A wind that had been his enemy from the moment he turned at the buoy.

As he approached the Lift Bridge, 
and he grew accustomed to the pain,
there was a rhythm.
I wouldn't say that he "settled" into that rhythm.
More accurately, he punched, kicked, and shrieked his way into it.

There was yelling, hard breathing, bending of the oar.
Most of all, there was power - which transmitted from his soul,
up into his shoulders, down his arms, and through the oar to the water.

That boat was moving at the speed and rhythm of rage,
which was made perfectly obvious in his face.
Despite every possible effort made by the wind and the water,
Michael Angelo Ruffino finished fast enough to grab the silver medal in the event that truly separates the men from the boys.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Group Shot

photo by Elisa Mohr

Above we see the group shot of gondoliers at the end 
of the 2016 US Gondola Nationals.

A few were unavailable for the shot.
I believe Mark Schooling was cheese shopping in Wisconsin.
But I digress.

There we were, all happy and tired from all the rowing.
Someone said "Hey, we need to take a group photo!"
I told some of the guys to remove their jackets to show their stripes.
Some listened, some didn't.

I set up the tripod, asked my wife to take the photo, 
and we all did our best to look respectable.

The end result was a great photo.

And then,
    Someone yelled "Now it's time for a crazy shot!"
        and the madness ensued.  
    It seems to come naturally for some people, and we are those people.

Three Seconds Away

The US Gondola Nationals goes by even faster than a four-man team rowing downwind on Red Bull and espresso.  
It's easy to miss some of the moments that are so worth hanging onto.

Here's the moment when a rower is just three seconds away 
from crossing the finish line.
You take off on a tear, rowing as fast as you can downwind.
Halfway down the river you turn at the buoy and realize that the wind, 
which has been your best friend all along, 
has turned on you - becoming your worst enemy.
You fight, and fight, and fight your way back up the river, 
pass the gazebo, turn at another buoy, 
and plow another fifty yards down river to the finish line.

In the above shot we see John Kerschbaum - host of this year's Nationals on the left, and Matthew "Marcello" Haynes of La Gondola in Providence with the clipboard under his left arm.

Out of the frame is the man who brought us such a remarkable timekeeping system - Bill Simpson of the Stillwater Ski Team.
Out on the boat is Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola, who ended up rowing the Solo Distance event during the most sever period of wind.

OF course after crossing the finish line, some guys stay standing, while others assume various positions ranging from sitting down, 
to collapsing on the floor in a heap.

But that's a story for another post.

Monday, October 24, 2016

High Speed Reflection

The 2016 US Gondola Nationals is officially "in the books".
We had an amazing time in Stillwater, Minnesota - experiencing remarkable hospitality from the folks in that picturesque and historic city.
John Kerschbaum of Gondola Romantica did a superb job of planning and executing the event.

I had hoped to post things here as they happened, 
but there simply wasn't enough time in a day.
Now that I've taken off my stripes and can settle in to rest and recover,
it's time to begin sharing with the rest of the world, 
bits and pieces of this thing we call "Nationals".

Here we see the team of Parker Harrison and Michael Angelo Ruffino 
of the Gondola Company of Newport, as they near the end of their run 
in the Tandem Distance event.
The bridge they are about to go under is Stillwater's famous 
and historic lift bridge.

At the end of this event, Parker and Mike had the winning time,
and won the gold medal in that event.

Notice that in the photo you can see a reflection of the gondola and rowers in the smooth water of the St. Croix River.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Visiting Wisconsin

photo by Mike Ruffino

I'd never been to Wisconsin before. 
Michael Angelo Ruffino and I were rowing a gondola 
on the St. Croix river - which separates Minnesota and Wisconsin today. 

We veered away from the Minnesota shore, 
and in short time were making land in the eastern side of the river. 

Here you see photographic evidence of my "brief" visit to the land of Cheese. 
Left foot: meet Wisconsin. Wisconsin: meet my left foot.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Night Train

At the threshold of midnight,
on the waters of Newport,
I witnessed the power of Jakob Easton.

We'd just finished an hour of tandem training - getting ready for the
Distance Tandem event.

Jakob had already put in a full night of rowing with passengers,
then we made our rounds in tandem, and I said
"so, do you wanna take her for a spin and do some sprint training?"

I know Jakob is fast and powerful.
He took the bronze last year with little to no preparation.
But sitting on the trasto of the Phoenix,
and watching him go to town with the oar,
well, it was humbling, and a little scary.

He kept transmitting more and more power through that oar.
In short order the gondola was plowing through the water
like a navy destroyer
(and secretly inside, I decided that I wouldn't be competing this year in the solo sprint event).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hunter Steps it Up!

I spent some time on the water today with gondolier Hunter Mitchell.
Like many Southern California gondoliers, Hunter is an avid surfer.
Surfers have a natural sense of balance on the boat,
and a clear understanding of the dynamics of a flat-bottomed hull moving through the water.
They also tend to prefer to row barefoot.
Today we covered solo sprint training,
and I got a front row seat as this long tall surfer stepped it up,
and explored new levels of speed on the water.



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Parker and Mike

The tandem team of Parker Harrison and Mike Ruffino took to the water
today to train for the tandem distance event at the US Gondola Nationals
in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Parker and Mike row for and represent the Gondola Company of Newport.
I've rowed against this duo a couple times,
and I expect they'll do well this year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


The race isn't won on race day.
It isn't won between the starting gun and the finish line.
The race is won in the days and weeks and months of preparation and training.

Whether it's a gondola race, a boxing match, or even a court trial,
the race isn't won on race day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


On his left forearm, Mike Ruffino has "Strength".

On the right, "Honor".

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Piccola Bandiera

photo by Kierlyn Densham

During my last visit to La Serenissima I bought
several flags of varying sizes.

Just when I thought I'd picked up all the Venetian bandiere that I needed,
I spotted these little birthday cake-sized flags and I had to grab a handful.

They weren't very expensive (and the quality matched the price),
but I'm so glad I bought them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Umbrella in the Sun

Here's a first-person view from the back of the Pupparin "Contessa"
in Newport, showing that umbrellas aren't just for rain.

These days in southern California, we'd love to see some precipitation,
but all we've got is that pesky sunshine - and a summer-like heat.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gondola Supermercado

A while back I was at the grocery store with my 16-year-old daughter.
We went to the area where all the shopping carts are kept,
She saw one of those race-car shopping carts and got that grin on her face.
You know, the "let's have some fun" grin.

Amazingly, she managed to cram herself into the little driver's seat area,
and we were off and running - actually running - through the store.
We'd learned earlier (back when my kids were the proper size),
that if you move fast enough, and don't knock anyone over,
you can get away with a lot of crazy antics
 with a shopping cart in the supermarket.

Speaking of crazy antics with shopping carts, take a look at this!

I'm not really sure where it is, but someone has come up with
something even better than a race-car themed shopping cart.
Oh sure, it probably wasn't designed by a member of the Tramontin family,
but hey, it's a gondola shopping cart!
Even better, it looks like the driver stands in the cart
and pushes with a pole.

Here's a link to the page where this one of a kind cart was first discovered:

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Row Venice - Another Great First-Person Account

Catherine Dawson March and her teenage daughter 
paid our friends at Row Venice a visit not long ago - 
learning the Venetian art of voga-alla-Veneta, 
and more importantly...seeing Venice as she should be seen and experienced.

If you go to Venice, pay Row Venice a visit.
You will not regret it.

Here is Catherine's account of her experience, 
as published in the Canadian news outlet The Globe and Mail:

Paddling away from the tourist throngs in Venice