Last week’s 2018 Zhengzhou Longzi Lake University Regatta in China’s Henan Province was the latest such event and was a big success on more than just the rowing front.

With more than 15 universities nestled along the shores of the eight km Longzi Lake, at the heart of a rapidly growing district, rowing is not only a fun and challenging competitive sport enjoyed by many students, but a passport to cultural exchange.

For this particular event, crews from Northwestern University (USA), Cambridge University’s Wolfson College Boat Club (GBR) and ASR Nereus (NED) made the trip to race against and learn alongside teams from seven Chinese universities.

Northwestern women's eight © Northwestern University Rowing


Crews faced off in eights over two distances: 300m and 5000m. In the men’s events ASR Nereus was in a league of their own over both distances. The Dutch men finished the 300m event well ahead of second place North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power (NCWU) and third place Physical Education College of Zhengzhou. The longer race was an even more decisive victory for Nereus, who crossed the line a full minute and a half ahead of Xi’an Jiaotong University with NCWU close behind in third.

On the women’s side Xi’an Jiaotong University took top prize in both races. Northwestern University and Xidian University finished second and third, all three top boats leading the field comfortably. NCWU were second in the 5000m and Xidian University were third. Northwestern, the only foreign women’s crew, was close behind in 4th for the distance.

“Overall, my teammates and I really enjoyed the race,” says Katie Cavanaugh, President of the Northwestern Team. “Our hosts made sure to accommodate as best as they could. We were in China just for the weekend, so rowing through jet lag while trying to rapidly familiarise ourselves with new equipment and calls in Chinese was challenging.”

The change from a normal spring of racing for foreign crews back in their home countries also contributed to the uniqueness of the trip. “It was a little odd for us to do a 300m sprint and a 5k in the middle of our 2k season,” Cavanaugh says, “but at the end of the day, rowing is rowing and we were incredibly honoured to compete.”

“I think the entire event could be considered a cultural exchange,” she continues. “Most dinners were shared with Wolfson, ASR Nereus and the Chinese University teams. We had a party with all the participating university teams and took what seems like an infinite amount of pictures.”

Breaking down the barriers between East and West even extended into the rowing itself with a sort of ‘oar diplomacy’. “Something as simple as asking which oars we were supposed to use with our shell was an interesting crossing of culture,” explains Cavanaugh. “I cannot stress enough that the entire weekend was seeped in a fun — albeit sometimes challenging — mixing of culture.”

“University rowing in China is growing rapidly,” says Cavanaugh. Despite being a relatively new sport, “I was very impressed by the passion evident in all the university rowing teams.”

Find out more about the broader growth of rowing across Asia here