Imagine the refreshing sea air on your face, a good workout and friends to share it with. Olympia Area Rowing – OAR as they aptly call themselves – has been all this and more since its beginnings in the 1980s. Reorganized in 1998 by five dedicated rowers, the nonprofit club has deep roots in the community can be a place for the whole family to find purpose and friendship.

Olympia Area Rowing: A Brief History

Olympia Area Rowing members row year-round on the Budd Inlet of Puget Sound. Comprised of adults, and high school and middle school students, it truly is a place for everyone who loves outdoor sports and the sea.

In 2005, Olympia Area Rowing built its 5,300-square-foot OAR boathouse – designed by club member Gretchen Van Dusen – on Port of Olympia property. The building now houses Olympia Area Rowing as well as the City of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation’s water program.

“Through rowing, our boathouse builds a community on the Budd Inlet,” shares Claire Gudenkauf, Olympia Area Rowing assistant coach. “We are the open door for youth to learn how to row and help them develop into young adults. We are the home for adults who have rowed previously and want to continue to get out enjoying the sport they love while welcoming others to learn the sport.”

Olympia Area Rowing’s Women’s 2x at USRowing PNW Masters Regionals. Photo credit: Alex Gudenkauf

The boathouse holds a bit of history, too. Claire says stop by and you will see the oars that Don Hume’s used to bring home the gold in the 1932 Olympics. His name may sound familiar to you, it was his story that was told in “The Boys in the Boat,” the 2023 movie based on the book by the same name.

Learn to Row in Olympia

If you are looking for something your whole family can get involved in, try rowing! While you can bring your own boat, you definitely don’t have to own one to be a member. “While we do have members who own their own singles or have donated the funds to help purchase a shell, members have access to all our club shells,” explains Claire.

Olympia Area Rowing’s high school men’s team practicing in the Budd Inlet. Photo credit: Miles Micheletti

Olympia Area Rowing has youth and adult programs. Classes include private and group options. Whether you are new to rowing or just moved to the area and looking for a supportive club, Olympia Area Rowing has you covered. As you advance in your training, you can join a coached team, join an independent row, or learn about competitions!

Aside from lessons, youth of all experience levels can join the summer camps. Rowing is a fun sport that gets your kids outside, active and learning valuable lessons. “I see one of the biggest lessons from rowing as learning how to work with others while pushing oneself,” shares Claire. “A rowing shell will not move well, and may even flip, if each person is operating on their own or the individual is focused in. The sport of rowing is so much like life. We come together to achieve a common goal and push through tough times. It encompasses the understanding that each of us shows up to the boathouse any given day with much more than meets the eye, so we set aside differences and work towards the common goal of moving the boat well.” WIth Olympia Area Rowing, kids learn time management, operating under pressure, communication skills, dedication, work ethic and water safety, she adds, all things that will help them as adults.

Rowers at the Covered Bridge Regatta with Olympia Area Rowing. Photo credit: Miles Micheletti

And, as a nonprofit, Olympia Area Rowing also has scholarships from The George Pocock Rowing Foundation and the Gretchen Steiger Scholarship Fund. that are available to youth you would otherwise not be able to participate in the club.

The volunteer-based club also hosts “Learn to Row” events through the spring and summer for anyone interested in learning what it’s all about. Even if you are not interested on getting out in on the water yourself, you can support their mission by donating to the club. Monies goes towards scholarships, safety equipment, programs and more. “We recently purchased new speed coaches, which provide important data and feedback to the rowers and coxswains,” shares Claire. “Next, we are hoping to replace our old docks to expand our launching area and make the area more stable.”

Watch Olympia Area Rowing’s Salt Watta Regatta

Interested in seeing what rowing is all about? It’s as much fun to watch as it is to do! On March 24, 2024, Olympia Area Rowing is hosting its Salt Watta Regatta at the Swantown Marina and all are invited to come cheer on our local rowers.

A regatta, Claire explains, is like a track meet for rowing. There will be a series of races for different boat classes. This event is youth-focused and will have local Olympia-area rowers from 8th-12th grades, as well as from Vashon Island Rowing Club and possibly Tacoma Rowing.

The best spots to view the races are along the east and west shore to the north of the boathouse, at Squaxin Park and Billy Frank Jr. Park.

Olympia Area Rowing
1022 Marine Dr NE, Olympia

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