I’ll give you that pause; we are in the South. I’m not talking about the drinkable hooch, though; I’m talking about the Head of the Hooch, one of the largest rowing regattas in the world!
The Head of the Hooch – also known as the Hooch, the Head of the Chattahoochee, and the Last of the Great Fall Regattas – has become one of Chattanooga’s “must see” events of Fall. Regardless of your familiarity with rowing (frequently called crew), the Hooch is definitely a sight to behold, and an event to experience. Unlike spring races which are sprints that look like what most folks think of when they hear the word “race”, fall rowing races are head races. A head race is a time trial, and the typical length is 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). The real action in a head race is frequently seen about 100 – 50 meters from the finish line as rival coxswains call power sets for their crews. This is when observers get to witness the true manifestation of “teamwork”, and watch as crews give their collective all to power the bow of their shells inches (and sometimes full boat-lengths!) past their fellow competitors to claim coveted spots on the podium!
A United States Rowing Association (USRA) sanctioned event, the Head of the Hooch takes place during the first full weekend in November (November 3-4, 2018). The Ross’ Landing/Riverfront area shuts down to vehicle traffic, and completely fills with All Things Rowing. The River itself is even shut down to commercial traffic for the duration of the event. For the best view of racing action, you’d be hard pressed to find a better perch than one of Chattanooga’s many bridges spanning the Tennessee River. The real feel of the Regatta, however, can only be felt by walking the venue. It is hard not to be inspired by and find yourself in awe of the over 2,000 sleek racing shells rigged and waiting for coxswains to call hands-on, the team tents stocked with food which parents and alumni serve up to their respective athletes throughout the weekend, and the bank of colorful oars lined up and ready to go at the first call of the race announcer. The most noticeable aspect of the event, though, is the camaraderie, community, and general – almost tangible – feeling of joy everywhere on the venue. Good sportsmanship is epitomized in the rowing community as it is in few other sports. It is not uncommon for crews to frequently loan gear to each other as needed, and infrequent on-water disputes are handled and settled with grace and poise by all involved.
The Hooch is special and unique for many reasons. It’s humble beginnings hail back to 1982 on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Roswell, GA (a suburb of Atlanta), about 2 hours south of our fair city. The Atlanta Rowing Club organized and ran the regatta out of their boathouse for 16 years until the event became too large for the venue. At that point, in 1997, the Head of the Hooch moved to the Olympic rowing venue in Gainesville, GA, where it remained until 2005 when the event again outgrew the location. At that point, the Atlanta Rowing Club and Chattanooga’s own Lookout Rowing Club joined forces to bring the event to Chattanooga. The City welcomed the Hooch with open arms, and under joint operation and guidance of the Atlanta Rowing Club and the Lookout Rowing Club, the Head of the Hooch continues to grow. It is popular among the rowing community, and has garnered the well-earned reputation as one of the friendliest regattas in the world. Don’t believe me? Come see for yourself; I promise you won’t be disappointed! Participants from over 200 organizations, over half the states in the Union, and at crews from at least 5 foreign countries have competed in the event just since it’s been here in Chattanooga!
Personally, the Hooch is near and dear to my heart, and the biggest difficulty I had while writing this post was keeping it short. I am an original Head of the Chattahoochee competitor, and I am more proud of my medals from this event than I am from any other event in which I’ve competed throughout my life. I remain involved in the Head of the Hooch as the Race Call Announcer, a volunteer position I’ve been honored to fill for the past many years.
If you’re in Chattanooga the first weekend of November, I definitely encourage you to consider coming down to check out the action on the Riverfront. If you want a deeper level of involvement during your stay, you are always welcome to volunteer. More information about the Head of the Hooch – and links for information on volunteering – can be found at their website headofthehooch.org.
See you on the river!