Anyone who rows, or is tempted to row, should read ‘The Boys in the Boat’ by Daniel James Brown. It tells the story of the Washington State University Eight who won gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, against the odds. The crew’s boat builder was an Englishman, George Yeoman Peacock. His words capture the wonder and value of rowing:
“Harmony, balance and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. That’s what an oarsman gets from rowing.”
“To see a winning crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony which is right. That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with heart and head as well as with physical strength.”
“When you get the rhythm in an eight, it’s pure pleasure to be in it. It’s not hard work when the rhythm comes – that “swing” as they call it. I’ve heard men shriek out with delight when that swing came in an eight; it’s a thing they’ll never forget as long as they live.”
Those who have rowed already will know the truth of these words. And for those keen to take up rowing, there is a new dimension to your life which can come from entering this world.
The spirit of rowing took hold at Oriel in 1966 when OCBC went Head of the River in Eights Week. Later in 1972 Oriel Men went Head of the River in Torpids and stayed there for 25 years. Oriel Women started in 1985 and rose rapidly to take the first ever Double Headship in Torpids in 2006, a feat which no other college has matched.
Oriel has been the dominant rowing college in Oxford for the last forty years because of its love and respect for the artistry, discipline, strength and camaraderie which comes from rowing well.
OCBC has served three kinds of rower:
1) Experienced rowers looking for a top rowing college with unparalleled Torpids, Eights Week, Boat Race and University rowing success;
2) Newcomers who want to learn rowing to a high standard quickly and row in a top boat;
3) Newcomers who want to take up rowing with proficiency but in a more relaxed way.
The benefits of rowing
Among Oriel rowers there has been a significant correlation between rowing success and academic achievement.
And there is a close link between the team-working skills leading to rowing success and making headway in life in general. The prominence of Oriel’s Tortoise Club rowing alumni is remarkable and many alumni remain very involved with OCBC.
The togetherness which comes from training and rowing as part of a crew never leaves you. It is a characteristic which has pervaded Oriel for decades and contributes hugely to the College’s reputation for friendliness between year groups and common rooms.
Oxford Vs Cambridge
OCBC encourages rowers to trial for the men and women’s Oxford University squads; Oriel has a good working relationship with the University squads. It’s a rare year that there is not an Orielensis racing Cambridge on the Tideway.
The main competition between Oxford and Cambridge at College level is at collegiate competitions at the Henley Boat Races in March. Oriel was the first Oxford college to win the Men’s Collegiate race in 2015 and has represented Oxford more times than any other college.
Inter-Collegiate Rowing at Oxford
The four days of Bumps racing in Spring and Summer between the colleges at Oxford (and Cambridge) is almost unique in the world of rowing and is an iconic experience. There is a festival atmosphere by the river during what is the most prominent collective inter-collegiate sports competition. Alumni, families and friends gather to cheer and watch multiple men’s and women’s crews from each college competing; with the ultimate accolade of “blades” for bumping the boat ahead on all four days or going Head of the River.
The award of blades entitles crew members to commission an oar painted with the crew’s names and bumping scalps, the walls of Oriel’s quads are also chalked to mark the victory. Headship of the River is celebrated by the burning of a wooden boat in the front quad of the college.
Torpids bumps racing between colleges takes place in the Hilary Term. Those trialling for the University boats are not eligible and therefore success at Torpids is determined by the quality of training and commitment of college boat clubs, more than by their personnel. Summer Eights bumps takes place in June when the University rowers join their college VIIIs.
In both competitions Oriel is one of the most decorated of the College Boat Clubs. The club as a whole holds 34 Torpids headships (28 of which were won since 1975), with the next college holding the second most at 22. We have 32 Summer Eights Headships (27 of which were won since 1975).
Those new to rowing
We greatly encourage people who have never rowed before to give it a go. Oriel is a mid-size college and one of the main reasons for our success has been our ability to help novices reach their full potential.
We have a very thorough and supportive teaching programme for novice rowers with dedicated coaches and good equipment. Not only will we train you to reach the first eight, if that is your goal, but on the way you will be rowing in very competitive crews. It is not uncommon for an Oriel second eight to be bumping other colleges’ first eights.
Off the water
OCBC strives for an energetic and inclusive atmosphere. Our social secretary organises events within the club and with members of other colleges, sometimes even doing trips to see how the Tabs are getting on in Cambridge. We hold steak nights in Oriel Hall, BBQs at Oriel Boathouse, and nights out (especially after a big race). OCBC also like to blazer up to support Oxford at the Boat Races, usually meeting near Hammersmith Bridge.
Other competitive rowing
Oriel is the most competitive and dynamic of the college boat clubs. We do not confine ourselves to Oxford’s two annual Bumps competitions. Instead we take on the Cambridge colleges at Fairbairns in Michaelmas term and often square up to their best at the Henley Boat Races. In the winter we often race at Upper Thames Head, Wallingford Head and Head of the River Race; come the summer we usually compete at Wallingford and Bedford regatta. If we are carrying out a Henley campaign then we also race at Marlow and Metropolitan. More often than not we are the only Oxford college crew competing in these events.
OCBC’s fundraising and support from its alumni has led to it being well funded, meaning that (unlike many colleges) it does not charge a subscription for those who row.
We are lucky to have the means to employ our own contracted men’s and women’s coach.
OCBC has excellent training equipment and a continuous investment programme in new boats. Owing to extensive alumni support a new Men’s First VIII boat was launched in Spring 2017 and was named in honour of Jonathan Close-Brooks who captained the Men’s boat which went Head of the River in Eights Week in 1967. It’s a brand new wing rigged Empacher, with a set of Concept2 skinny blades. A new Women’s First VIII boat has just been commissioned.
The Tortoise Club
The bond between current and former members of OCBC is exceptionally strong reflecting the shared love of rowing and pride in the college. Our Tortoise Club alumni attend Boat Club dinners in numbers, take a close interest in the careers of OCBC members and are very generous financially.
The Blades scheme, whereby alumni donate by direct debit annually, is the reason we are able to employ just good and dedicated coaches. Most colleges have to rely upon subscription fees and paying such good and dedicated coaches by the hour. We are extremely grateful for all the support that the Tortoise Club provides.
OCBC is proudly sponsored by Gilpin’s Gin, not only does their support take the financial strain off of our members but in particular it meant that we were able to purchase a minibus and so now train on the far superior Wallingford stretch of the Thames.
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