100 years is a long time in any context. If we zoom out at the broader picture of our world, it would seem that shifts are glacial in pace but over the chronology of a century, you can see the speed at which the world develops. Whilst technology, healthcare, science and engineering accelerate onwards towards innovation, political factions become pendulums in the societal breeze – we’ve undergone world wars, cold wars, phony wars and every peacetime juncture that exists in the in-between. Within sport, brands have overcome popular sentiment to become the critical factor in how each discipline directionally travels. Less so in those that command smaller commercial fees – even less so in sports where the grassroots still control the means.
Rowing is one such sport – arrive at Henley Royal Regatta and you feel as if you are walking through the chapters of time itself. The incumbent names in rowing are ones that have become established not through money or greed but through success, tenacity and hard work. Kent School, who are celebrating their centenary year in 2022, are one such example of a boat club whose commitment to excellence has not wavered and whose results stand the test of time.
Nestled on the border between the states of New York and Connecticut, the school has only had four rowing coaches in its entire history. Boys and girls enjoy a program with tremendous support from current parents and rowing alumnae; on-land facilities complement the boathouse which is located on the banks of the Housatonic River that flows beside the school’s campus. Those of you who are reading this article in the UK will undoubtedly recognise Kent’s name – they’re semi-regular attendees at Henley Royal Regatta in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, a competition they made the final of in 2010.
Eric Houston runs the program, having begun his own rowing career at the school in 1977. His crews have featured highly at domestic and international competition throughout his tenure, including a historic win at the Youth National Championships in 2010. As is so often the case with rowing, oarsmen and women who excel are often plucked to continue their learnings at premier institutions across the country, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown.
Speaking to Eric, it was remarkable to discover that up until now the school did not focus on rowing as a sport until the spring term. “Kent was founded on the principle that pupils should be able to play multiple sports,” he explained. “When I arrived at Kent, there weren’t many sports to choose from, but as choice expanded and other sports became more popular, our time on the water became shorter. And, at the time, that was completely fine – I’d get these kids in the spring, when they’d been cross-training and not spending all their time on ergs, and they’d be ready and raring to go after it”.
That ethos persisted for a long time at Kent, but Eric was aware of the evolution of the sport. “I watched the schooling system in the UK start to produce world class crews year on year, because they were rowing basically all season long,” he said. “We’re turning up at Henley, having taken less strokes – so, from next year, that is going to change as we focus more on small boats through the winter”.
Our relationship with Kent begun several years ago but has accelerated in the past 12 months, not least due to the technical innovation we’ve offered to customers via the brand-new King Eight SE. Kent had been using some of our smaller Wintech boats, across singles, pairs and coxed fours, but the introduction of the King prompted Eric to throw in a few for his lighter crews. Then, in 2022, they bought the flagship King shell.
“Part of the reason for that was that I currently have a crew who don’t quite fit any of the boats we already have,” said Eric. “I asked other manufacturers whether they were able to create something just right for my boys but that wasn’t in the making for a little while. So, I called Wintech and they told me all about the new shell”.
After first trying the boat in the fall of 2021, the results were instant – Eric and the group loved the boat, both feel and run. They took the boat on Kent’s annual spring training trip, something Eric had never done before.
“I knew we needed to get used to rowing in this specific shell,” said Eric. “I was really happy with the results – they’ve got a great hull which runs beautifully and has some excellent innovative features. The seats are particularly good. We did 28k during one session without stopping; in other boats, the boys would have been wiggling on their seats but not in the King – the comfort was clear”.
The vision for Eric and Kent School’s rowing program is to advance their boys and girls on and off the water, by giving them the opportunity to train in top class facilities with top class equipment at top class locations. Eric is still musing as to whether he will send a crew to Henley Royal Regatta in 2022 – the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt by US programs across the country – but if he does so, it will be in a King.
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