Things have gotten mostly back to normal on Mission Bay—after more than a week of construction, all signs of the 50th Anniversary of everyone's favorite season opener disappeared in a matter of just two days. The race course, which takes four days to install, came out within hours of the last race on Sunday, and all the tents and fencing that create the venue came down within 48 hours. The local crews and boathouses are all back to their routines and regular traffic patterns, and have moved on with their seasons. The rowing community did what it does best to come together for an epic three days of competition—but now the sleeping giant of San Diego springtime is back in hibernation for another year.
With it being an anniversary year, and just the second iteration of the regatta post-pandemic, there was a lot at stake for 2023. And, for the most part, the regatta delivered. "We are always looking for ways to improve," says Associate Director, Megan Kalmoe. "I've been with the regatta less than a year and the learning curve has been steep—but I came in hoping to help find ways to make our regatta experience the best in the world. Our venue is so iconic and San Diego is such an amazing destination, it's really on us if people don't have a good weekend at the Crew Classic."
The major changes rolled out by SDCC in 2023 were by and large, a success. Friday racing for Masters which ran from 3-5pm, and meant accelerating the setup timeline for the week before the regatta by an entire day (sounds easy: it's not)--went off without a hitch and allowed for the introduction of new events—some of which were wildly popular (Masters 4Xs) and some of which were not (Novice and Intermediate Masters 8+s). Competitors should plan for a similar schedule for Friday events in 2024, with the possibility of more new events, which are still TBD.
The Beer Garden, in its new location, was full all weekend and many, many kegs were tapped. Beer Garden denizens understandably had mixed feelings about being moved off the beach and in to a more central spot on venue, but overall the opportunities for more space, more seating, a great view of the Jumbotron, and most importantly: level ground for beer drinkers to walk on—outweighed a quick jaunt over to the beach to watch the necessary races swing by if they needed to catch them in real time. Look for more improvements to come to the beer garden in the same location for next year.
In other beach-related news, the regatta did draw some criticism for expanding its VIP spaces to include fencing down to the water line, which prevented spectators from camping out on prime regatta real estate at the finish line without buying a VIP ticket. For some people, this was a big problem. "This was a change we discussed at length for this year, understanding that there were going to be pros and cons," says Executive Director, Bobbie Smith. "By expanding the fence line we were able to increase the occupancy of the VIP tent significantly in accordance with our city permits, and sell more [sell out!] VIP tickets. The reality of running a regatta—or any large event—in California is that it is wildly expensive, and getting more expensive all the time. So as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization we need to find ways to balance creating a great experience for our athletes and spectators with ways to sustain the regatta for years to come. We've gotten a lot of feedback and will keep considering ways to make these spaces work for more of our audience."
A bright spot between the two VIP tents was the awards stage, which was relocated down on the sand with Mission Bay and Fiesta Island in the background. The trophies team ran a tight ship, with back-to-back awards presentations all day Sunday. "I was so impressed with the improvements to the awards area this year," says Kalmoe. "I brought in two of my Olympic teammates, Kerry Simmonds and Tracy Eisser, to help run the show and they crushed it. They kept things super organized and running on time, but also really put in the effort to make all of our presenters and the athletes feel special for every single trophy. We really wanted our race winners to feel like they were being celebrated and treated like rockstars with the awards process, and I think we achieved that."
So what comes next? "We are already having meetings and making plans for 2024," says Smith. "Even while the regatta was happening this year, we were actively taking notes about things we can do better during every part of the process: months-out planning, week-of, and on race day. There are so many people who work year-round to make sure that the Crew Classic happens every year, and they are all already involved in committing to making our next 50 years even better. That starts with 2024, and we are looking forward to having everyone back again next April to do it all again."
Event registration for the 2024 Crew Classic will open on RegattaCentral on October 23, 2024. The San Diego Crew Classic will run April 5-7, 2024.