Out on the calm waters of Langley Pond Park, rowers in groups of twos and fours took to their boats and competed at the US Rowing Southeastern Regional Competition on June 25-June 26.
The competition featured 206 athletes representing 16 clubs from across the region competing in a variety of races. The race marked the return of competition rowing to the Aiken County Park in almost a decade with new features to impact and boost local tourism.
“None of this would be here without rowing coming here in 1994,” said Brian Sanders, deputy county administrator for Aiken County. “This makes me happy to see rowing back.”
“When I started doing this over forty years ago, we had 24 rowing programs in the whole southeast. Now we have close to 500, so with 500 programs, you really need places to compete and places to row,” Chief Referee for the event Sam Dempsey said. “…we have been here, so we are very glad to be able to come back and have another place to row.”
The two day regatta competition let teams take advantage of eight buoyed lanes. Referees and judges patrolled the pond on boats to ensure fairness and safety on the open waters.
“Langley Pond a while back was seen as a great racing venue or had the possibility to be a great racing venue and a lot of work has gone into the park to make it a great venue,” Megan Buckalew, president of the Augusta Rowing Club said. “Just the docks, the trailer area, and then at the end of the 2,000 meter course, we have a finish line tower and then we had to repair the dam and then COVID, so this is the first year back at Langley in quite a few years.”
“… It is just great to be back rowing and to be able to have crews from the Southeast come and see the venue, and everyone is getting back into regattas and racing and getting back to being excited about the sport,” Buckalew added.
The return of rowing and its impact of tourism has been in the works by the Aiken County Parks and Recreation Department for several decades. Approximately $25 million was spent updating the park’s infrastructure, which included removing tree stumps and branches from the bottom of the pond, fixing the Langley Pond Dam and adding other recreational features.
In the coming years, Aiken County PRT hopes to capitalize on its rowing tourism within the CSRA and expand to other water sports like kayaking, water skiing and jet skiing.
“Our plan is to have as many as 10 rowing regattas per year. Some will be large, some will be small, two and three teams like a conference championship for schools…” said Brad Holdren, Aiken County Park supervisor and Augusta Rowing Club coach. “We can bring people into this community and use this park for 20-30 weekends a year and that is going to help this community. The more people we can put into hotel rooms and restaurants, the stronger Aiken County is going to get financially.”
Holdren and Dempsey hope that rowing tourism exposure piques the interest of locals who are interested in the sport and volunteering.
“We would love to have people learn how to come and row, and if anybody is ever wanting to get involved as a volunteer, there is endless places that we need help with,” Holdren said.
“It’s a very good sport in that it is very low impact, it is one of the lowest injury sports there is, and you can do it your entire life,” Dempsey said. “…We also have a para, people with disabilities, we also have categories for men, women, singles, doubles, pairs, fours, eights, quads and octuples.”