UCD Crew Origins
Spring 1977: Initial Meeting
It was the spring of 1977. Star Wars had just been released in theaters, the first Apple II computers went on sale, and UC Santa Barbara transfer student Richard Sundquist was looking to start a rowing team at UC Davis. To organize a meeting at Hickey Gym, he posted ads in the California Aggie and on bulletin boards in Shields Library.
Crew Recruitment Ad from California Aggie 4/18/1977
Those who showed up recall an older gentleman sitting in the front row who wore a plaid sport coat, and they assumed this would be the coach. But up stood a gangly blond-haired young man who talked about his time rowing at Santa Barbara and presented a vision for how, together, they would create a rowing program at Davis.
What Rich Sundquist lacked in resources he made up for in determination. At his house in Davis, Rich crafted a homemade rowing machine using a workbench, a wood dowel and some spare parts. The indoor rower consisted of ironwood tracks, a Pocock seat, and a leather clog foot stretcher. Spare parts for the rower were donated by UCSB Head Coach Dennis Borsenberger.
Rich built the entire machine atop a 3-foot tall wooden workbench. He used a thick wooden dowel for the oar, similar to early model Concept 2 ergometer handles. He tied a rope to the middle of the dowel, and had the rope follow the geometry of an erg chain passing over a rower’s feet, over a pulley, and then vertically where he attached the rope to a steel weight — maybe 10 pounds — for resistance. When using the machine, an oarsman would pull the weight up on the drive, then resist the pull of weight on the recovery.
From a coaching perspective the goals were:
- Teach a sequential recovery: Arms away first, then body angle, then slide slowly, achieving all three phases while maintaining constant slow handle speed throughout the recovery;
- Slow recovery, especially slow slide, even though the weight is trying to accelerate the recovery; and
- Strong, compact drive; Drive with arms, back and legs together, while also focusing on driving with the legs so your back doesn’t open early. And also avoiding the reverse — shooting the slide on the drive.
The purpose of the rowing machine was to teach technique. . The team didn’t have boats yet and the boathouse was still being built. Rich scheduled individual sessions — maybe 15 minutes each — on the homemade rowing machine. since only one person could row at a time. Rich recalls that each rower was scheduled twice each week in the evenings. It proved to be a success; when the team finally got on the water, rowers already knew the drive and recovery basics.
It was on this hand-built rower that, some of the first members of UCD Crew learned the mechanics of a rowing stroke.
Summer 1977: Lease with the Port of Sacramento
By the end of spring quarter, a dozen prospective rowers had signed on to Rich Sundquist’s vision. The first order of business was to identify where to row. Second, they’d need a boathouse.
“I discovered Lake Washington, now the Port of Sacramento, by following up on leads regarding the UCD Sailing Club, who were rumored to sail at Lake Washington,” Rich said. “It took me three drives to West Sacramento and use of an old paper road map that showed the lake prior to the deep water channel being built in 1963. Someone gave me directions from south of the locks to a dirt road that dead-ended at a huge swamp that was, in fact, a remnant of the old Lake Washington on the south side of the turning basin. Initially I was disappointed since the water was shallow, swampy, tule-filled. But this led to the discovery of the Port which incorporates a portion of Lake Washington and proved to be the location of the UCD Sailing Club’s metal building.”
Within a week, student Phil Kearney’s father brought his aluminum fishing boat up from San Francisco to help scout out areas at the Port of Sacramento that might make sense to build a boathouse. None of the members of this search crew — neither Rich nor Phil nor Phil Kearney Sr. — had ever been to the Port of Sacramento. As they skimmed across the water and scanned the shoreline from the fishing boat, they were delighted by the quality, and the length and width, of the Port’s deep-water channel. Once they identified a location for the boathouse — what is today the site of River City Rowing — Rich reached out to Port Director Mel Shore. Rich found him to be approachable and easy to work with. He quickly set an appointment to meet Mel Shore at his office at the Port.
“I explained what I wanted to do and where I wanted to build the boathouse,” Rich recalls. “He was perfectly agreeable as long as the other clubs (a sailing club and an outboard club) agreed. There’s an interesting aside to obtaining permission from the other clubs, but bottom line, I called Mel up a week or so later and told him the other clubs were agreeable, and he told me to come down and pick up a lease.”
Once building began in early fall of 1977, Rich recalls that “within minutes the sailors objected.” Rich showed them the lease and said they “very grudgingly discussed the location of the boathouse.”
In response to the sailors’ concerns, Rich agreed to move the boathouse about 10 feet closer to the water, “which had the drawbacks of being half off the level ground – and also there was a tree in front of the main door,” Rich said. “Still, we had free water-front real estate.”
Next Up UCD Crew Origins Part 2 Fall 1977 Building of the Boathouse