Photo courtesy of Martin Taylor, Edna Gallery.
by Marlis K. Sandwith
One of the things I love about living on Orcas Island is the creativity and resourcefulness of Island People. While Orcas is a relatively small island, with a small town (and a few small hamlets) and a small population, we often bring Big Things to fruition. It all begins when someone has an idea, or feels something’s missing, and before long, someone is gathering all the people they know, with whatever means they have available, and they are making it happen. Orcas has a long history of just this sort of thing. Truly grass-roots.
I look around and see many examples of this–the new food co-op, the saving and reinvention of the Sea View Theatre, the first annual Orcas Island Film Festival beginning tonight (!!!), farm stands, the weekly art market, the Exchange, the brewery, music festivals, yoga workshops, singing workshops, writer’s workshops, art openings, the Farm-to-Cafeteria program, Camp Orkila, Funhouse Commons, the upcoming TEDx Orcas Island, and on and on…all the way down to the little gatherings of people in houses, gardens, and studios, making great things happen here every day for our community.
One such “start-up” is near and dear to my heart, and to several people in our office: Orcas Island Rowing Association. It’s one of Orcas Island’s best kept secrets. Thousands of people come to Orcas Island each year to enjoy one of our greatest treasures–Moran State Park. Among it’s riches: Mount Constitution, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, boating, and swimming. But we also have a rowing club, whose boathouse enjoys a stunning location on the way to South End Camp.
“Orcas has a rowing club???” many of my off-island and other-island friends often ask me, when they find out my high school son is a member. Yep. And it’s all volunteer. My son finished his third season last spring. On the way to a regatta in Canada, I asked Coaches Dave Roseberry and Martin Taylor how it all began. As Dave told me, “It all began in a rowboat…” And it did. While hearing it directly from them is much more entertaining (and I highly recommend a conversation with them if you ever get the chance), here is their history from the O.I.R.A. web site in a nutshell:
“It was founded in 1996 by Mike Reid and Dave Roseberry. They boot-strapped their own rowing careers and the club. Those two guys are still the backbone of the club as they have always been. The club built a beautiful boathouse on the shore of Cascade Lake in Moran State Park using all volunteer labor and expertise. The club and the local park service have an excellent relationship and frequently work together on projects to enhance life in the park.
OIRA now has a dedicated set of volunteer coaches, led by head coach Tina Brown” (ahem…Olympian Rower Tina Brown, who is also the long-time accountant for T Williams Realty and Permit Resources). Martin Taylor heads up fall season, and co-coaches spring.
Coach Tina Brown and her Crew. Photo courtesy of Marty Zier, Edna Gallery.
Coach Martin Taylor. Photo courtesy of Marty Zier, Edna Gallery.
They offer a competitive rowing program for high school and junior high age students. There are two seasons, a Fall season starting in September and finishing in November and a Spring season starting in February and ending in May. Currently, Fall season is well underway with high participation. They will be hosting a regatta here at home called the Headless Head, on October 26th, to which the whole community is invited to attend.
Founding Coaches Dave Roseberry and Mike Reid, at the Headless Head. Photo courtesy of Jeff Pietsch, Edna Gallery.
Headless Head at OIRA Boathouse, Cascade Lake. Photo courtesy of Marty Zier, Edna Gallery.
Another lesser-known bit of information: they also have a small, but active and growing adult rowing program. In fact, Fall season is open to adults, and many of the regattas are multi-age, so it’s not unusual to see adults, high-schoolers and middle schoolers in the same boat.
We are incredibly lucky to have this program in our small and remote location. Participation in most off-island clubs costs thousands of dollars, while our costs are a fraction of that. This requires a lot of fundraising, but we are also lucky to live in a community that heartily supports us each year at our fundraisers. Island Market lets us camp out in front of the grocery store for the 24-hour Row. Camp Orkila helps us host mainland clubs for home regattas. Last season’s dinner was a wood-fired pizza night, hosted by Maple Rock Farm, on a windy spring day in their barn.
So if you happen to be out driving or hiking around Cascade Lake around 6 am, depending on the time of year, you just might see a group of dedicated rowers, warming up for practice by running around the frigid lake, in the dark with head lamps. Or perhaps you might catch the beautiful sight of them rowing across the lake in their shells (boats). They make it look easy, but it is hard work indeed, and I am sincerely moved by this sight each time I see it.
For more information about this fantastic program, please visit their web site: http://orcasislandrowing.org/
Photo courtesy of Marty Zier, Edna Gallery.