Some folks here in the US have never witnessed a gondola race,
never known the joy of standing on a bridge as a group of shiny black gondolas come barreling towards them - with guys in striped shirts shouting in Italian as they put all of their might into rowing their iconic boats under the bridge and towards the finish line.
If that description of gondolas differs from how you've imagined them, you're not alone.
Most of the time we row slowly, sing softly,
and work to create an atmosphere of calm serenity for our passengers.
But for two days each year – we row fast, yell loudly
(sometimes in Italian),
and create, well, pretty much the opposite of calm serenity.
There are no passengers.
In fact we pull the seats out entirely in order to lighten the boats.
It's jolly madness, and we love it!
Rowing a gondola requires many skills, which often need to be employed at the same time.
singing, navigating, reading our passengers and interacting with them.
But despite how easy it may look, that rowing part is athletic.
Once a year we get the opportunity to take that one discipline to it's limits.
The US Gondola Nationals began in 2012 in Providence, Rhode Island.
The folks at La Gondola - a company there that provides relaxing cruises similar to many other gondola servizios - came up with the idea.
In it's first iteration, this event was known as the GondOlympics.
The next year it was held in Huntington Harbour.
With a dozen gondola companies operating in Southern California,
the attendance was double what it had been the previous year.
A new name was given - US Gondola Nationals - and many American gondoliers got their first taste of competition.
In the years that followed, the USGN was held in Providence again,
then Newport Beach, CA, and last year in Stillwater, Minnesota.
This year the competition is back in Huntington Harbour,
hosted again by Sunset Gondola.
The race formats include:
- solo and tandem races, both sprint and long distance
- solo and tandem obstacle course
- tandem time trial on a lighter Venetian boat known as a "pupparin"
- solo time trial on a very small Venetian boat known as a "sandolo" - in this race the gondolier must row with two oars...crossed!
- four-man distance timetrial
Some of the starting points, and all of the finish lines for the races will be viewable from Seabridge Park in Huntington Beach, CA.
The Trinidad Island Bridge will probably be the best place for watching the distance races. On one side of the bridge spectators can see boats coming and on the other side they'll be able to see them going and viewers will be able to walk or run along with the boats all the way to the finish line on the sidewalk that's opposite the park.
Saturday and Sunday - October 28th and 29th.
Activity begins at 10am
Races are expected to start at 10:30am
We will race until sunset
Gondoliers competing this year range in age from 16 to 66 years old.
There are currently 30 gondola companies operating in the US.
This is the 6th annual US Gondola Nationals.
The competition started in Providence, Rhode Island.
There are only about 35 authentic gondolas from Venice in the country.
some of the gondolas you'll see at the USGN this year will be up to 57 years old.
We race with working gondolas - boats that take passengers for hire throughout the year.
True Venetian gondolas are 36 feet long and made of 8 different types of wood.
There are only five boat yards in Venice that build these iconic vessels. Many yards are run by families that have built and maintained them for several generations.
Most gondola builders only launch a handful of new boats each year.
Gondolas are crooked, or "asymmetric" as we often say.
They are purposely built nine inches off-center to accommodate the gondolier - who rows off of only one side with a long oar.
The oars are 14 feet long, handcrafted by master artisans in Venice,
and only meant to flex one way.
They cannot be flipped over and rowed the other way.
Come see it all for yourself.
Just look for all the guys in striped shirts.
You can learn more about the 2017 US Gondola Nationals at:
More details of the schedule are described in my post "Four Days"
photo by Mindy Schauer