History of Rowing in Long Beach

four-with-in-marine-stadium-ca-1934Four with surging past the original stadium seats and finish line from the 1932 Olympics. Photo taken ca. 1934.

On March 30, 1907, Stanford University and the San Diego Rowing Club competed in a pair of four-oared shells on Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. It was the first rowing event in Long Beach, and the first four-oared race on the Pacific coast. During the roaring 20’s a group of local developers known as the Channel Club had the low-lying tidelands of the Alamitos Bay dredged of more than seven million cubic yards of sand, silt and mud to create a recreational boating lagoon. Soon thereafter, the lagoon caught the eye of the Los Angeles Local Organizing Committee for the Xth Olympic Games as an ideal site for the rowing events, so the Marine Stadium was born. The US men’s 8+ represented by the University of California-Berkeley men won the Xth Olympiad that year defeating Italy, Canada and Great Britain before an awesome crowd of 121,000 spectators. The race was so close there was never any open water between any of the boats, and the U.S. crew won by a mere three feet. The stadium is the only rowing venue specifically built for the sport in the United States and it was named a California State Landmark in 1995 since it and the Coliseum are the only two surviving 1932 Olympic structures.

Upon the heels of the Olympic Games, the original Long Beach Rowing Club (later the Long Beach Rowing Association) was formed by twenty five Long Beach businessmen dedicated to promoting rowing in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area. Clyde Doyle, Chair of the City Recreation Committee was the club’s first temporary president, and Keith Enloe was elected as the first official president. The club purchased several of the shells left by the Japanese and German Olympic crews. Long Beach Poly High School, Wilson High School, Long Beach Junior College and UCLA all immediately embarked on rowing programs. All the high school crews were coached by Pete Archer (1904-2001) through the Long Beach Recreation Commission, which of course put Pete in the comfortable position of never being the losing coach. Omnipresent and tireless, Pete also coached the recreational classes for men and women. Throughout the thirties, Pete’s Jr. rowers became national champions and many went on to row with the great California crews of that era.

bill-lockyer-and-rolla-carroll-at-right-ca-19351The young Rowing Association sponsored and promoted large and glamorous National Championship regattas producing the Pacific Coast single scull champion Rolla (”Rollie”) G. Carroll (click here for photo gallery & history) in 1935, and in 1936 LBRA sent the double scull combo of Jack Gallagher and Jim Magee to the Olympic trials. However, the Great Depression put an end to the gala events and rowing settled back to its community roots until the national commitment to winning Word War II brought a temporary end to rowing in Long Beach. After the war, several attempts to revive rowing in Long Beach failed to materialize in the face of changing priorities and the city’s use of the boathouse for storage. USC used part of the Olympic boathouse for a year before moving to the Los Angeles Harbor, so it wasn’t until 1956 when the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team trained in the stadium that Long Beach State College (now CSULB) and the reborn LBRA began to ply the waters of the Marine Stadium once again. To this day members from both the club and the university row the same water as their ancestors. In 1967, then club member and CSULB crew coach Bill Lockyer founded the long-standing Christmas Regatta, a late-season sprint regatta which carries his name and his legacy forward to this day.

New Boathouse in 1967

The City of Long Beach modernized the Marine Stadium for the 1968 Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Trials, and the current boathouse was constructed near the 800 meter mark of the course. LBRA dedicated the boathouse to Pete Archer in honor of his legendary contributions to the sport of rowing in Long Beach and southern California. The far end of the original Olympic course was filled in at about this time in preparation for an ill-conceived and ill-fated Pacific Coast Freeway project. Unfortunately the old Olympic boathouse was left high and dry, and it now serves as the center for the Long Beach Conservation Corps. The old boathouse is on the corner of Nieto and Colorado, behind the fire station. Thankfully the freeway was never built, and instead a park was created in its place. Despite the relocation and new finish line, the Marine Stadium still provides 2000 meters of straight water (the standard distance for national and international rowing), and with the Cerritos Channel and the water surrounding Naples Island we are blessed with unlimited sheltered water.

LBRA Men at the 1968 Olympics

LBRA’s elite scullers John Van Blom, John Nunn, and Tom McKibbon established the lasting legacy of world class sculling at the Long Beach Rowing Association; and they formed the foundation for the future success of LBRA’s women scullers. At the 1968 Olympics, these LBRA rowers held three of the four sculling spots on the 1968 US Olympic Rowing Team. (At that time, the single and double were the only Olympic sculling events.) At the 1968 Olympic trials held at the Marine Stadium, John Van Blom won the Olympic singles sculls trials, clipping his fellow LBRA teammate Tom McKibbon by just .4 seconds. John went on to finish 4th in the single at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, one of the highest U.S. Olympic men’s single sculls finishes in recent history. John Nunn became the first LBRA member to win an Olympic medal, winning an Olympic bronze in the double sculls with Bill Maher of the Detroit Boat Club. Tom McKibbon earned the Olympic sculling spare spot on the 1968 team.

LBRA Men at the 1972 Olympics

In 1969, John Van Blom and Tom McKibbon teamed up to win the double sculls at the European Championships in Klagenfurt, Austria, to become world champions. Following their bronze medal performance at the 1970 World Rowing Championships in St. Catherine’s, Canada, John and Tom won the Olympic double sculls trials in 1972, the second Olympic team for both of them. In the year leading up to the 1972 Olympics, LBRA was bustling with Olympic fever. Drawn by the success of LBRA’s scullers and near-perfect year-round training conditions, rowers from all parts of the country arrived at LBRA with boats on their car tops. Some even lived in their cars at the boathouse. (Not allowed now!)

LBRA Men at the 1976 Olympics

LBRA Olympic participation continued at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. John Van Blom, competing on his third Olympic team, stroked the U.S. quadruple sculls to 6th place, in the debut of that event in the Olympics, with John Nunn as their coach. In 1976 a total of fourteen U. S. Olympic rowers (male and female) came from LBRA.

Unidentified woman sculling in the Marine Stadium ca. 1934

Unidentified woman sculling in the Marine Stadium ca. 1934

LBRA Women’s Sculling Pioneers

Women’s competitive rowing began to flourish in the United States at about the time of the LBRA renaissance. In 1970, Tom McKibbon began to coach women at LBRA, which significantly impacted the course of United States women’s sculling. As an Olympian and world champion sculler himself, Tom coached his followers to strive for excellence with flawless, efficient and effective technique, through disciplined and challenging physical training, cutting no corners. It is likely that Tom’s successful coaching influenced other high profile men’s coaches to begin coaching women. The first four female members of LBRA, Carol Simpson, Melinda Collis, Karen McCloskey, and Joan Lind (now Van Blom), soon became nationally competitive. In 1971, Karen and Joan won LBRA’s first women’s championship medal when they won silver in the double sculls at the National Women’s Rowing Championships in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

At the 1972 National Women’s Rowing Championships in Seattle, LBRA women began their national domination in sculling by winning all the sculling events. Carol Simpson won the single; Karen and Joan won the double; and Melinda joined them to win the quad. Carol, Karen, and Joan, with Cambridge sculler Gail Pierson (of the famed “Red Rose Crew”) competed in the quad on the U.S. National team at the 1972 Women’s European Championships in Brandenburg, East Germany, placing 8th, the highest finish for an American boat at that time. Following these races, the LBRA women attended the Munich Olympics to watch LBRA’s Tom McKibbon and John Van Blom compete in the double. While they were there, it was announced that women’s rowing was to be included for the first time in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

At this time, with the prospect of Olympic participation for women rowers and the early implementation of Title IX, university women’s crew programs were beginning to blossom. Jane Loomis, a former Wilson High School classmate of Joan’s, joined LBRA in 1972. As a competitive LBRA sculler, and a sophomore at Long Beach State, Jane was not content to be a booster for the Long Beach State men’s crew. She saw the need (and the equal rights) for a women’s crew program at Long Beach State. Jane advocated for and founded Long Beach State Women’s Crew in 1972. The program quickly prospered. For more information, see: http://www.beachcrew.org/

In 1973, Joan Lind qualified to represent the U.S. in the single sculls on the first full U.S. national women’s rowing team to compete in the European Championships, held in Moscow that year. That summer, Joan became the first U.S. woman to make the finals at the European Rowing Championships. LBRA teammate Karen McCloskey competed in the double sculls in Moscow. In 1974, six of the eight women scullers on the National Team were from LBRA; and in 1975, all of the scullers on the U.S. Women’s National Rowing Team were LBRA members.

LBRA Women at the 1976 Olympics

Tom was selected as the national women’s sculling coach; and in the years leading up to the 1976 Olympics, his coaching and the continued national success of LBRA drew competitive women from across the country to train in Long Beach. Those LBRA women scullers competed fiercely with one another for the top sculling spots. On early mornings in Marine Stadium, it often appeared that one could walk across the course on the decks of racing shells, as women and men single scullers lined up for intense sprint racing under Tom’s leadership. Tom was selected as the first Olympic women’s sculling coach; and the 1976 Olympic Women’s Sculling Trials and selection camp were held in Long Beach.

At the 1976 Olympics, Joan Lind won silver in the single sculls just .6 seconds behind East Germany’s Christine Scheiblich, and thus won the first Olympic medal in U.S. women’s rowing history. Other pioneers in women’s rowing from LBRA include the 1976 Olympic double sculls team of Jan Palchickoff and Diane Braceland; the 1976 Olympic quadruple sculls team of Liz Hills, Lisa Hansen, Karen McCloskey, Claudia Schneider (part of the famed 1975 “Red Rose Crew”) and coxswain Irene Moreno; 1976 Olympic sculling spares Annette Hillard and Sharon Vaissiere; and Debbie Rozowski (now Nowinski), founder of the LBRA junior rowing program and member of the 1977 US National Team in the quadruple sculls.

Following the 1976 Olympics, Joan Lind, with Tom as her coach, continued to win the U.S. singles trials to represent the United States, where she placed among the top 5 single scullers in the world at the World Rowing Championships in 1977 (Amsterdam), 1978 (New Zealand), and 1979 (Bled, Yugoslavia). John Van Blom coached the national double sculls team of LBRA’s Lisa Hansen (Stone) and Liz Hills (O’Leary) to consecutive World Championship bronze medals at the 1977 and 1978 World Rowing Championships. Both of these women went on to become successful head women’s rowing coaches at Harvard (first Lisa, then Liz).

LBRA and the 1980 Olympic Team

In 1980, Joan Lind, coached by Tom, again won the Olympic single sculls trials; and John Van Blom qualified for his 4th Olympic team, rowing with New York Athletic Club’s Jim Dietz in the double sculls. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow; but the U.S. team’s results in several major European regattas during that summer indicated that both Joan in the single and John in the double would have been strong contenders at the Olympics.


Photos from LBRA’s “First Women” Reunion at the 1999 Christmas Regatta

LBRA at the 1984 Olympics

In 1984, the Olympics returned to Los Angeles, fifty two years after Los Angeles hosted the Olympics for the first time. The 1984 Women’s Olympic Sculling trials and selection camp were again held in Long Beach. FISA chose Lake Casitas as the Olympic venue over Marine Stadium, because the Stadium no longer met the exacting standards for the Olympic Games’ 2000 meter course. LBRA’s John Van Blom, selected as the Head Women’s Olympic Sculling Coach (John’s 5th Olympic team), coached the quadruple sculls team of Anne Marden, Lisa Rhode, Joan Lind (all three from LBRA), Virginia Gilder (Boston Rowing Club), and coxswain Kelly Rickon (ZLAC) to an Olympic Silver Medal. In 2009, twenty-five years later, it is still the highest Olympic finish for a United States women’s quad. Tom McKibbon coached the women’s Olympic double sculls to 6th place in the finals. This was Tom’s 5th Olympic team, 3rd as a coach.

LBRA at the 1988 Olympics

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, LBRA’s Monica Havelka raced in the Olympic Final of the double sculls to a 6th place finish. The double was coached by Tom McKibbon (his 6th Olympic team). It should be noted that throughout Tom’s 18-year coaching reign at LBRA, he was never paid by LBRA nor by the rowers he coached.

LBRA’s Joan Lind, John Van Blom, and Tom McKibbon have been inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame for their accomplishments. In the years since the 1988 Olympics, LBRA members have continued to compete and win medals on U.S. National Teams at the World Championships. A framed chronological list of all LBRA national team competitors is displayed in the foyer of LBRA. The link to the list will soon will soon be available here.

Junior Rowing at LBRA

In 1986, long-time LBRA members Debbie and Steve Nowinski recognized the need to revive junior rowing at LBRA. After seeking approval from the LBRA Board of Directors, Debbie and Steve expended significant time and effort to write a winning grant for $150,000 from the Amateur Athletic Foundation (created with the profits from the 1984 Olympics) to begin the Long Beach junior rowing program. Now called the Long Beach Junior Crew, the program is recognized as one of the top in the nation. For more information about LBJC, see: http://www.longbeachjuniorcrew.org/

Indoor Rowing at LBRA

In 1987, after recognizing the success of Boston’s annual CRASH-B World Indoor Rowing Championships, LBRA’s John Van Blom contacted CRASH B organizer and former national teammate Tiff Wood (of “The Amateurs” fame) about starting an indoor race at LBRA. With the cooperation of Concept 2, John Van Blom brought “The Beach Sprints” to life. The 2,000 meter race on Concept 2 machines is one of twenty “satellite” regattas held across the United States for which Concept 2 funds up to four “qualifiers” to travel to Boston to compete at the World Indoor Rowing Championships held every February. Several LBRA members have won the World Indoor Rowing Championships in their age group and set world age-group records. The Long Beach indoor race, held annually since 1987, attracts over 300 competitors. Prior to the boathouse erg-room addition, the race was held in the second bay (CSULB’s) of the boathouse. On race day, the hum of the machines and the roars of the cheering crowd reverberate through the boathouse.

Roworx (former Rowbics)

In 2005, LBRA member Victoria Draper presented a proposal to LBRA’s Board of Directors to offer structured indoor rowing classes in the erg room to members and non-members for a fee. The Board approved the proposal and Rowbics began. This program has now been replaced by Roworx run by Jack Nunn. Roworx offers regularly scheduled classes in the erg room. For more information about Roworx, see: http://roworx.com/

California Adapted Rowing Program (CARP)

Angela Madsen, a national champion in her own right–founded the California Adaptive Rowing Program (CARP) in the late 1990s to provide physically challenged athletes throughout Southern California with the equipment and facilities to learn to row, and train and compete at the highest levels nationally and internationally. Thanks to her efforts, LBRA and the Pete Archer Rowing Center provide access to the beautiful waters of the Alamitos Bay and Naples Island for everyone. CARP has an active group of volunteers who assist on the docks. For more information about CARP, see: http://www.carplb.net/volunteer.htm

Masters Rowing at LBRA

Masters rowing has taken off in Long Beach since it began in earnest in 1980. LBRA hosted successful U.S. Masters National Championships in 1997 and in 2008. Club members participate in and win medals in regional, national, and international masters regattas, as well as other major regattas such as the San Diego Crew Classic and Boston’s Head of the Charles. The LBRA Board of Directors assesses equipment needs, and purchases competitive team boats as needed. Thanks to the generous donations by individual LBRA members for boat purchases, most notably the contributions of 1952 Olympian Boris Beljak, competitive LBRA masters enjoy access to top of the line equipment. Boat Captain A.C. duPont regularly trailers LBRA boats across the country for competitions.

Boathouse Expansion

In 1997 John Nunn and A.C. duPont drafted designs for an expansion on the existing boathouse on the back of a napkin. The plan was to add women’s locker room facilities, expand the boat storage areas, and add a large meeting/ training room. The original boathouse had no women’s facilities, because it was built before the growth of women’s rowing. Additionally, the boat bays were bursting with boats, and more storage was needed.

John Nunn’s vision, leadership, perseverance, and dedication to the project, as well as his significant financial contributions are the primary factors responsible for the realization of the expansion.

After four years of design, negotiations, securing coastal and building permits, and continuous fundraising, construction finally began in 2001. Jim Litzinger donated hundreds of hours volunteering professional expertise and skilled labor to ensure quality workmanship and materials. By spring of 2003 the boathouse was taking shape (click here). And by late summer 2004, the expansion was nearly complete (click here). By 2005 the expansion was complete, with the locker rooms and showers complete, and the gym and multipurpose room fully outfitted with weights and ergs.

Pete Archer – Namesake of the Pete Archer Rowing Center

Pete Archer coached crews in Long Beach for many years. He was an astonishingly active member of the community and earned the respect and love of generations of athletes in Long Beach.

Bill Lockyer – founder of LBRA’s annual Christmas Regatta

Bill Lockyer was the beloved long-time coach of the Long Beach State crew, now CSULB or “Beach Crew.” He founded the annual Christmas Regatta in the 1960’s as a warm-up event for spring sprints.

LBRA Continues to Promote and Support Rowing for All

LBRA continues to benefit from the selfless dedication and hard work of voluntary elected officers and Board of Directors who manage and provide direction for the club. LBRA members keep busy between national and international events by hosting no less than seven regattas and one indoor rowing race each year. See the Events page for details on how you can join us at any or all of these races.

Home to Juniors, Masters, Adaptive, Elite and Collegiate rowing, LBRA and the Pete Archer Rowing Center is poised for continued growth and service in the recreational and competitive rowing community.

Photo of members of the original Long Beach Rowing Club ca 1934

One Comment

  1. LBRA has a great tradition and history and continuity.
    Regarding LBRA women’s sculling pioneers, Karen and Joan’s silver in the double at the 1971 nationals wasn’t the first for LBRA…in 1970 Melinda Collis and Carol Simpson took silver in the lightweight double at the Women’s Nationals on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA. Karen may also have medaled in the novice wherry that year.
    Jane Loomis took gold in the novice wherry in 1972, more than a minute ahead of the next competitor.

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