In 2012 Matthew "Marcello" Haynes and his fellow gondoliers at La Gondola in Providence, RI decided to hold the first modern gondola race on the waters of their city.
It is possible that gondola races may have been held before in the US,
but if it happened, it would have been a hundred years ago,
and the rowers would have been transplanted Venetians.
The races in Providence back in 2012,
which were called the "GondOlympics" were the starting point of something truly great for the sport/craft/skill that is known as "voga-alla-Veneta".
A California gondolier named Tim "Bepi" Reinard attended and enjoyed it so much that he proposed another installation of it the next year in his home waterway of Huntington Harbour.
The next year the races were held, with competitors from Providence, Boston, Minnesota, and several California servizios.
A new name: the "U.S. Gondola Nationals" was given.
From that point on, gondola racing became part of what we do,
and it has made us all better rowers.
We've become friends with gondoliers in other locations and that social interaction has lead to a great exchange of knowledge and experiences - benefiting all involved.
In training and competing, gondoliers have sought out better instruction and techniques, and we've all gotten stronger (which not only helps win races, it also helps when rowing in wind or current).
In subsequent years Nationals was held in Newport Beach,
Stillwater MN, and again in Providence and Huntington Harbour.
New race categories have been added.
Competitions on other types of Venetian boats have also been included - introducing many American gondoliers to new vessels and even new ways of rowing.
At each one of these gatherings, some gondoliers get the opportunity to row a passenger cruise or two in the host waterway.
One of the highlights of Nationals for me has been to row in the famous "Waterfire" in Providence.
This weekend we gather once again for Nationals.
At least ten gondola operations will be represented.
Nine racing categories, with sprints, distance races,
and even slalom courses will be on the agenda.
While we all enjoy the competition part of it, the camaraderie is what really draws many of us back each time. There's a brotherhood among gondoliers.
When you walk into a crowd of other people who perform the same unusual task, and you're all wearing the same striped shirts, it's hard to tell who is from where.
We are like members of different chapters of the same fraternity, except unlike a fraternity, we have both men and women in our ranks, and we come together around a job, which is also an athletic activity - voga-alla-Veneta.
Nobody understand you, and that weird job you do,
like someone who does that weird job too.
The U.S. Gondola Nationals is this weekend - October 26th and 27th at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Newport Beach.
More information can be found at www.usgondolanationals.com
All photos from the 2015 US Gondola Nationals in Newport Beach, California
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