UCSB Crew was founded in 1965 by a handful of ambitious students, making it not only UCSB’s first rowing team, but also UCSB’s first club sport. While the team had a slow start beginning with just nine self-taught men and a few borrowed boats, the state of the program today indicates that the team is anything but slow! Thousands of members later, personally commemorated and etched into the team’s history with individually assigned varsity numbers, the Women’s and Men’s programs combined have grown to become a force to be reckoned with.
While the Men’s team officially began in 1965, the Women’s team did not come to exist until 1972 when the Shell & Oar group transformed themselves from supporters to rowers. Shell & Oar was a group of women who supported the original rowing team, conducting important behind-the-scenes logistical business of the team, such as traveling to regattas, fundraising for equipment and gear, and cheering on the team from the shores and docks. These tough, motivated women quickly realized they wanted to share in the action and glory, and formed the women’s team and donned the gold tanks of UCSB as well, to race alongside the men. Their team continues to be a pinnacle in club rowing to this day. Their story is below!
These days, not only do both teams challenge their west-coast rivals at every chance, earning trophies at huge regattas such as Crew Classic, Western Regionals (WIRA), and Nationals (ACRA), but they also step up to the immense challenge of facing Division I teams across the country. They travel across the country from Seattle to Boston, to face both club and DI teams in large-scale regattas, most prominently the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the largest rowing event in the world. But they don’t just step up to the challenge; they absolutely smash it! The team has consistently placed well in the Head of the Charles, earning them returning invitations, and have won the men’s and women’s combined ACRA national championship title four years in a row. The women’s team especially has placed a huge role in this success, dominating their competition at ACRA and consistently winning their team title. Both club team and Division I teams all across the country recognize and fear those “damn gold tanks” that the UCSB crew team proudly sports.
The team is now in its 55th year as a UCSB club program and has experienced major change and success in the last few years. The men’s team, which has experienced two major coaching changes in the last 3 years, made history in 2017 when the Varsity 8+ won the national title, beating out powerhouse Michigan for the first time. The women’s Varsity 8+ have swept their respective races by wide margins for the past 4 years as well.
The men’s team is now at the hands of the experienced coach JP Sekulich, who has brought this team to even greater heights than ever before. After leaeding the team through many years of success, the women’s team had to say a touch goodbye to long-time coach Mike Homes. However, the athletes are still strong as ever and welcome the guidance of new coach Alyssa Dewey, who began at UCSB in 2019. Both coaches are excited for this upcoming racing season and look forward to putting UCSB’s name and reputation atop the leaderboard once again.
Now sporting a combined team of over 100 athletes, UCSB is gunning for both their individual and combined national championship titles, to make history once again. As past, present, and future members continue to invest time, energy, and sweat into this team; they give the program new opportunity and growth so that the legacy of pride, passion, tradition, and excellence may be passed down to future Gaucho rowers. All donors, alumni, parents, friends, and all other supporters help make the experience of every UCSB rower a life-changing adventure that they will cherish forever. Thank you to all of you who allowed this program to thrive over the years, we won’t dishonor the legacy of UCSB Crew!
The Origin of UCSB Women’s Crew
As well as expansion to other universities from 1971-1976 and the Legacy of Today
As mentioned above, UCSB Crew began with just the Men’s team in 1965 in the Santa Barbara Harbor. At that time, rowing was a men’s sport almost universally throughout the world, especially at American universities. Women were attracted to the sport, but they could only channel their interest by joining a UCSB campus club called Shell & Oar. As previously mentioned, this women’s club supported and cheered on the men’s crew. They had secret “brothers” that they wrote letters of encouragement and provided gifts for. The women would provide food for the men, cheer them on at meets, and more. By the end of 1971, these women either wanted to row themselves or pursue other sports or activities that the campus had to offer.
The transition from Shell & Oar to Women’s Crew occurred largely as a result of the passage of Title IX, which provided equality between men and women in athletics. Written by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, Title IX was an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was a respected and accomplished senator who wrote three amendments to our constitution. Senator Bayh has become well-known for Title IX and was celebrated after his passing in early 2019.
The newly formed UCSB Women’s Crew were given a hand-me-down cedar shell that had been discarded by the men’s team. The women’s team was started in early 1971 by Debbie Ayers, Randi Ellman, Paula Busse, Patty Otto, Anna Amsded, and others. Claudia Webster was one of the UCSB women who joined Shell & Oar in 1971, and today, she and her husband, Alec, are significant benefactors of UCSB and our rowing program, especially through the Webster Mentorship Program.
By fall of 1972, more women joined, including Mary Burchill and Kathy Somerville as the crew’s bow pair. Their teammates included Polly Harvey, Kay Korisko, Barb Horung, Annette Helde, Nancy Turner, and Sue Morgan. Sue made the first women’s crew team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, making history. Nancy Turner’s father and uncle rowed as stern pair of the 1948 Cal Varsity 8+ and won the Gold Medal 8+ in the London Olympics. Needless to say, this was (and is) an impressive group of women who made their mark in Santa Barbara and world history.
What these “Shell & Oar”-no-more ladies started had begun to spread to other universities. In the fall of 1973, Nancy Turner transferred to UC Berkeley and began their women’s crew, about two year after UCSB had their first team. Barb Hornung attended graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1975 and asked if Mark Maxson would coach their first women’s crew. Maxson was in Chicago at that time working his first job out of UCSB. This crew did well and raced at Head of the Charles and were finalists in the WLW4+ in the National Women’s Rowing Championships in 1976. The teams at UC Berkeley and University of Chicago are still going strong.
The spread of women’s crew did not end at these two schools, of course. Athletes from UCSB started even more university crews, including Jack Vallerga, a UCSB coxswain who started the UCSD women’s crew in San Diego in 1973. Rich Sundquist, a UCSB Men’s Crew member in 1975, moved up to Davis and began the UC Davis rowing program in 1976, which included both men and women. UCSB athletes created their own competition throughout the 1970s, and nearly 50 years later, the legacy of these women lives on.
The UCSB Women’s Rowing team carries this legacy through gold medals against DI/DII/DIII programs. They value the competition that they have and the size and passion of the programs they compete with. The UCSB WV8+ has won the Women’s Varsity 8+ race at the American Collegiate Rowing Association Championship in 2017, 2018, 2019, and counting (TBA). Our WV8+ consisting of Kelly Garvey, Lindsey Adams, Erica Byrne, Rachel Henson, Karoliina Nevalainen, Kayla Gorman, Annli Tico, Ava Soesbe, and Natalie Sarno (cox) won their division at the 2019 San Diego Crew Classic with racing their new Resolute shell, the Howard E. Susman. In the simplest words, what can be said for the tireless efforts of just a few ladies who wanted to row in 1971 is…thank you.
The history of UCSB Women’s Crew has been provided for by Mark Maxson (UCSB ’75) and edited for additional details by the UCSB Rowing Webmaster.