For years, rowers came to the area to participate in the Sarasota 5,000 race that took place between Casey Key and Siesta Key.
However, with motorboats also occupying the water, the danger of a powerful wake flipping one of the rowboats became too much of a concern to continue hosting the event.
After a three-year hiatus, the Sarasota Scullers brought the race back to the waters of southwest Florida — albeit in a slightly different location.
The newly named Battle of the Bridges Regatta took place for the first time this past Saturday, weaving underneath three bridges throughout the Venice Intracoastal waterway.
With 67 entries and 24 events, the race wrapped up just after noon and had volunteers and coordinators beaming with its success.
“We wanted to look at a space of waterway that has a great spectator area and that we could easily regulate who could enter the race course so we could keep the waters safe,” volunteer coordinator Danielle Tanaka said. “I think it’s been great. It’s hotter than we expected. It’s tough to do a race like this early in the season, but we couldn’t have asked for a better venue and better cooperation.”
Despite sweltering heat and some lingering red tide, there were no major health complications during the race, according to Tanaka.
With some athletes racing the 5,000-meter course several times in the near-90 degree heat, there was plenty of water and shade available.
“It was really nice today,” Scullers member Emery Perrin said. “It’s hot, but we have a nice current bringing us back in.
“The red tide was really bad last month, but it’s subsided a little this month. Occasionally, you hit a dead fish with your oar, but it’s not the worst. You get used to it.”
Along with this being the first race of its kind to take place on the Venice Intracoastal waters, it was also the first time the Scullers have been able to host a race this year.
With 21 medals, the Scullers inched out Treasure Coast rowing by two medals to go home with the most awards on Saturday.
“We did really good. You can hear all the kids clinking around with their medals,” Scullers assistant captain Eli Koplin said. “We racked up the medals today. We came out firing. It was a good start to the season.”
For many members of the Scullers, Saturday’s race provided an opportunity to race on their home waters — something most of them have yet to do.
The Scullers are a club rowing team made up of students from various Sarasota County high schools such as Sarasota, Riverview, Sarasota Military Academy, Pine View and Venice High.
“It’s amazing. Racing here has a good element to it,” Venice High senior Matt Clendening said of racing in his home town. “I feel very comfortable here, like I can do my absolute best.”
While finding a new venue for this race was important for the safety and quality of the race, another reason for moving the event to Venice was to showcase all that the city has to offer.
Nathan Benderson Park, one of the premier rowing venues in the country, is located just north in Sarasota, and Tanaka is hoping that providing a rowing alternative in Venice will attract some of those who make the trip to Sarasota.
While the races at Benderson are “sprint” races where all boats begin at the same time, the Battle of the Bridges is a longer “head” race in which rowers race individually for the best time.
“The city of Venice is such an amazing community and we have so many neat things here,” Tanaka said. “Benderson Park is the No. 1 rowing facility in the Western Hemisphere. So there will be races coming through here every three months on a year-round basis. By providing a different and unique type of race, we’re hoping to get those rowers to come stay in our community and eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and stay in our hotels.”