Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Separate Ceremony

 photos by Ella Mahoney and Micheal Olsen

What do you do when you have two teams who won medals in an event, 
and there aren't medals available at the ceremony?
You plan another ceremony, of course.

This year the two teams from Newport Beach 
took gold and silver in the 4-man distance event.

Tonight we gathered at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant overlooking Newport Harbor, had great food and refreshments, enjoyed some conversation, 
and then had an official medal ceremony for those who had gone so long without the hardware to show for all their training and racing efforts.

Special thanks to Eddie Rivera for coordinating this gathering.
Each guy showed up in his best Emilio Ceccato stripes.

First, of course, the customary social portion of our event
(that's when guys in striped shirts try to out-do each other 

with stories and exaggerations).

 Hunter talks about surfing, or maybe playing the harp.

 Eddie tells about his recent lifesaving adventure
(yes, I know that it looks like he's talking about how "the fish was this big")

 Paul humors me as I exaggerate something inane.

 The women tolerate us with beauty and grace.

Next, my team stepped up to receive our medals.

 Silver medalists from left to right:
Kalev Pallares, Simon Atkins, Hunter Mitchell, Greg Mohr.

 Ella and Elisa presenting the medals.

 Awarded and happy.

The winners this year were four guys who'd spent a lot of time 
training and working hard in order to achieve a gold medal time.
They rowed like a well-oiled machine,
won the gold,
and earned everyone's respect.

At the last minute, Matt Raus was unable to make it, 
but his three team mates were there.

 Gold medalists from left to right:
Michael Angelo Ruffino, Eddie Rivera, Parker Harrison.

 Ella draping the first medal.

 The second and third...

 And a hug for good measure.

 With medals and smiles, all involved went home happy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Left Side, Right Side, Ay-yay-yay!

photo by Patrice Goldberg

Valesana - an unusual rowing style (even by Venetian standards) 
where the rower uses two oars, which are crossed, 
and operates them in an almost scissor-like fashion.

This is much more challenging than standard single oar rowing.
First of all, you've got twice as many oars to deal with.

Secondly, you've got to row each of them with a single hand.

Third, they've got to be operated in unison, 
but without bonking them into each other.

Fourth, if one pops out of the forcola, 
you've got to figure out how to get it back into place 
(while not losing control of the other oar...or the boat, for that matter).

Fifth, you've got to do all those things in such a way that the boat actually goes where you want it to.  Throw in the fact that the boat is very light and there are winds and currents, and you've got a recipe for frustration.

Oh, and number six:
You can't itch your nose!
(Seriously, this was one of my biggest frustrations during the Valesana race this year)

I came away from this year's Valesana saying several things:
- that it was an exercise in frustration,

- that it was remarkably humbling,
- that the GoPro footage was NOT to be posted online.

I went into the event with a rather cavalier attitude.
(first mistake)
I hadn't practiced, (second mistake) but I'd done this type of rowing years before in Venice.

I'd had a good warm-up row, but early on in my run, 
the oar off the right side of the boat started popping out of the forcola.  
The clock was ticking. 
I tried several adjustments, but eventually I resorted to
the odd tactic of knocking it back into place with my right knee.
Not really what my old Venetian rowing coach would approve of, 

but sometimes you find yourself in a tough spot and you improvise.
Fueled by frustration, determination, 
and a desire to not come in an hour later, I plowed on.

If you start thinking about it, Valesana can get your mind in a pretzel twist.
"If the oar off the right operated by my left hand...but the left side of the body is supposed to be controlled by the right hemisphere of my brain...AAAHHH!!!! It makes both sides of my brain hurt!"

 Two years ago we had this event, and I came in fourth.
This year I took second (all the while thankful that the second and third place guys from 2015 weren't competing this year).

The next time we have a Valesana event, I'm planning on practicing.
I'm also planning on figuring out how to keep that oar from popping out
(still probably won't want you to see the video).
Special thanks to Alberto Bozzo of Emilio Ceccato,
and Chef Bruno Serato of Caterina's Club and The Power of Pasta.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gondola Racing Video

video by Jonah Bonner

If you were rowing at Nationals this year, you might have heard a buzzing sound above you, or noticed a GoPro camera somewhere on your boat.

Simon Atkins is responsible for the GoPros, 

and he's posted a number of great videos online.
Jonah brought the drone (that made the buzzing sound).

Some incredible footage was captured by both cameras.
Jonah just posted some of it - masterfully edited together with a great piece of music.

You can watch it here, or go straight to the source here:

Whatever you do, go with as big of a screen as you can find, 
because the quality is fantastic.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Meanwhile, in Newport

Tonight's sunset was on fire!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sto Sanco!

 photo by Mark Schooling

Rowing cruises doesn't take much out of you.  
It's designed to be that way.
But racing drains a lot more energy.
Bepi grabbed a power-nap back in 2015,
next thing we knew, he and Richie took gold in Tandem Distance.

photo by Mark Schooling

Before or after a race, that little piece of carpet on the tail of the gondola is remarkably comfortable. 
In this last photo, you see one Gondola Greg - crashed out on the back of the boat right after his run in the four-man.
"Sto stanco" means "I'm tired".
I certainly was tired at that moment.

photo by Steve Atkins

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sofia and Simon on the Slalom

photos by Cassandra Mohr

Most tandem teams come from the same servizio,
and show up at Nationals having trained together for an event.
Sofia and Simon would not match that description.

Most tandem teams show up on race day...knowing that they'll be entering a particular race. Not in this case.

Oh, and most tandem teams actually know each other.
Hah! Again, not so much here.

One of the things I always look forward to at nationals is meeting new friends.
This year the team from La Gondola in Providence included three new gondoliers, who were all enthusiastic about rowing and fun to meet.

On the second day, Sofia and Simon decided, on a whim, 
to take a run through the obstacle course as a tandem team.

They didn't finish in the top three, but they came close.
Everyone was impressed with their performance on the course.

I spoke with Simon after the race and here's what he said:

I thought it was really cool rowing with someone I hadn't practiced with. We were both excited, communicated well on the course, and I was amazed at how well we did for not practicing.
it was all around fun.

On a course where several competitors - both solo and tandem - missed 
one or more turns, they played it safe:
we kinda cut it wide on some turns, but we didn't miss any markers.

But I think the biggest advantage was the fact that Simon is an expert trainer.
I've had the pleasure of working with Simon for some time now.
We've trained together, traveled to Venice together.
and raced together.
Because of his expertise in form and technique,
I have Simon train all of my new gondoliers, both in Newport and Texas.
Simon's experience with training other gondoliers, gave him a natural ability to convey instructions to Sofia - which helped them navigate the course so well.
Later he told me:
It's good that there's a common language among gondoliers, so they can know what the other is talking about - even from opposite coasts.

Meanwhile, Sofia did a fantastic job rowing in this race as well as the other events she took part in.
Like several other American gondoliers, she's got a background rowing crew, which gives her a better understanding of things on the water, as well as a strong competitive side.
I look forward to seeing her in next year's competition.
Simon told me:
I felt very honored to row with her.

Here are some photos of their run through the course.
At the bottom of the post is a GoPro video of the race from on board the boat.

Monday, November 13, 2017


This one's a throwback to the 2015 USGN in Newport Beach,
but since the "Timekeeper" in this photo just celebrated his birthday yesterday
I decided to post it.

Here you see the moment where Ben Landis crossed the finish line 
and Mark Schooling of Gondola Paradiso recorded the time 
(with a horde of gondoliers from various places - all standing on the dock watching, cheering, and some...crossing their fingers).

Ben did well, snagging some medals that weekend.
Mark, as always, was solid and dependable on the docks - with stopwatch in hand.  

The timekeeper is the ultimate "unsung hero" of our event.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

How It Begins

photos by Tony Storti

You spend all year thinking about the big race - the solo distance race.
This is no team effort.  
You can't rely on anyone else.
It's all you.
You train, study maps, plan out the course in your mind.
You dwell on it, maybe like you did with Christmas as a kid.
Then finally the day comes.

Maybe you've trained diligently for it, 
maybe you're not sure you trained enough.
Either way, it's time.

You climb onto your assigned boat, 
wrap your hands around the oar, 
and begin the slow row out to the starting area.

Thoughts race through your head:
"Where are we going?"
"Am I ready?"
"Should I be rowing faster?
"Or should I be trying to conserve my energy?"

"Do I have a good boat?"
"Is it as fast as the others?"
"How do I match up with these other guys?"
"I hope I don't break the oar."

Someone on the chase boat yells out instructions.
Everybody lines up as ordered.

If it hasn't happened already, you get that cold feeling that comes when adrenaline and anticipation are forced to inhabit the same space.
Tension builds.
Your heart is thumping.
Every ounce of blood in your arms flows like arctic water in your veins. 

There's a moment where all seems calm,
but it isn't.

And then...

"GO! GO! GO! GO!"
They're yelling from the chase boat.
You all explode in a rowing frenzy,
and the "calm" gives the "storm"

That's how it begins.
How it ends, well, that's up to you.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Providence Arrives (Again)

The team from La Gondola in Providence has many talents.
They're excellent rowers, great singers, they have a camaraderie 
that is envied among other servizios.

Back in 2013, when the US Gondola Nationals was last held 
in Huntington Harbour, the Providence team arrived in style.
See my post "The Arrival".

This year, once again, the Providence arrival was memorable.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Simon Says Salud

photo by Tony Storti
Just after his solo run through the obstacle course,
Simon waves to the camera of expert gondola photographer Tony Storti.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sunset Surfers

photos by Tony Storti

A couple shots from the pupparin distance time trial run 
of Team Sunset Gondola.

That's Parker Russel up front, and Jack Wilhelm on the 
raised deck of the stern.

They did a terrific job in this event, 
especially since they'd never rowed such a light and tippy boat.
Of course I'd expect nothing less from a couple of So Cal surfers.
Bepi tells me they "surf a lot and they're very good".
Bravo, guys!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Alza Remi

The standard salute from a rowed boat in the Veneto is to raise the oars.
They do it at the end of races in Regata Storica.
Parade and procession boats do it too, as they pass the judging stand.

For several years we've raised our remi at the end of a race 
or time trial at the US Gondola Nationals and other events.

My four-man team knows the drill.
But this year, it appears, that we got a little creative - as is evidenced 
by the photo above.

One handed? Yeah - that's cool.
One handed while flexing your other bicep - that's even better.
But "Look Ma', no hands" while it's balancing on the chin?
I only have three words:
    "For   the   win!"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bend It Like Marcello

photo by Tony Storti

Tony took this photo from the chase boat during the third heat of the Solo Distance race at the 2017 US Gondola Nationals. 

The Master craftsmen in Venice (known as "remers") 
who carve gondola oars design them to be flexed in one direction.

Flip one over and row hard on it, and bad things may happen.

But in the hands of a rower who knows what he's doing, 
one of these 14 foot creations can bend without breaking, 
again and again - all the while flexing and springing the gondola forward 
with great efficiency.

when the camera captures the action at certain points,
it's easy to be concerned about that oar shaft snapping.

Marcello of La Gondola in Providence, Rhode Island 
managed to snatch a bronze medal in this event,
without breaking the oar.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Just the Red

This was taken during one of the Solo Distance heats 
at the 2017 US Gondola Nationals in Huntington Harbour, CA.
It was a great shot from the beginning,
but dropping out all but the red really gave it a cool look.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fast Break

Sometimes a boat name in the background makes a fitting title.
This is one of those times.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Four-Legged Beast

In the four-oar configuration on a gondola,
each rower powers their own oar, 
but the team must work as a unit.
Fall out of synch, and things get chaotic.
Timing, discipline, and the ability 
to work together as a single unit - 
these all contribute to success.
As your gondola plows through the water at top speed, four people become one entity: 
   A fast-running, 
            36 foot long, 
                     four-legged beast!

 photo by Steve Atkins