Crown Point Park was nearly empty early Friday morning. The spectator and vendor tents were lined up on the beach on Mission Bay and crews were on the water practicing, but the majority of the athletes and coaches who will be competing in the 44th San Diego Crew Classic were still making their way to the venue.
By 10am, that had changed. As the crowd built up, trucks pulling trailers angled into cramped spaces while crews unloaded boats and oars. The parking lot was no longer empty. In the middle of it all was the women in charge, Executive Director Darlene Disney.
With one hand on the wheel of a golf cart and another on a cell phone, Disney answered questions for vendors, coaches, trailers drivers, media, and just about anybody that could get her attention.
"We started this on Monday morning and we are just about setup," Disney said. "Practices are happening on the water and it's sunny and beautiful. We'll have about 7,000 people here today and it will build over the course of the weekend."
A Crew Classic Welcome
Welcome to the 2017 San Diego Crew Classic, known to some as the spring and West Coast version of a Boston fall classic we all know and love. With 392 entries and 118 teams competing - from high school and junior programs to collegiate teams and masters - the official first big weekend of the sprint racing was on. And San Diego is a good place to be for people who love rowing and want to get an early test of speed in fast racing conditions.
By the late yesterday afternoon, the spring festival was going full swing and just walking on the sidewalks through the park was an adventure.
The field held a heavy dose of California-based crews with a healthy mix of Midwest and East Coast programs, all of whom are more than a little happy to be out of the cold - especially the East Coast folks who are dodging another Spring Northeaster, a big enough ice cream headache to force the cancelation of racing in New England.
"If you go back East now, the races are getting canceled," said Yale assistant coach, Mike Gennaro. Gennaro is a veteran of more than a few Crew Classic weekends, having rowed at Syracuse University and then with the U.S. national team.
"It's beautiful out here. Why wouldn't people want to be here? It's a fun trip for people who want to get away from the East Coast for a little bit," Gennaro said. "At Syracuse, this was a huge deal for us."
Not everyone who was practicing yesterday on Mission Bay was having to pay quite as much attention to applying ample amounts of sunscreen to winter-pale complexions. If racing here is a big deal for out of state crews, it's just as big of a deal for the San Diego Rowing Club Junior Crew, which is boating seven junior crews, six masters boats and a club eight.
"This is the best place to row," said women's varsity coach Carmen Slack. "This is great. It brings in people from across the country, and it's one of, if not the largest, sprint races in the country . It's awesome to see everyone here."
Coaches and Coxswains Briefing
As the day ended and race officials held the coaches and coxes meeting and athletes streamed into the big tent for a pasta dinner and kickoff celebration, Disney could be seen in the distance - still driving her golf with a phone to her ears.
Racing begins Saturday morning and will continue all day. The two-day event concludes Sunday afternoon.
For complete Crew Classic information check out the row2k.com special coverage here.