Crowds Race to the Head of the Charles

Garbage cans were overflowed with half-empty soda bottles and paper plates along the sidewalk of Harvard Square en route to the Charles River. With the never-ending flow of grandparents, students, parents, siblings, and teammates, Cambridge felt like New York City. People came from all corners of the world for the Head of the Charles Regatta, one of Massachusetts’ most popular annual sporting events.. The Head of the Charles is a two-day rowing competition that was established in 1965 and has been growing in size and popularity ever since. An estimated 9,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators congregate each year for this huge event.

Despite the grey dismal sky on this third Saturday of October, energy radiated from the masses of people who lined the Lars Anderson Bridge and occupied the grass adjacent to the river. As the boats glided by, spectators grew increasingly enthused to see the athletes. Often cheering for friends or those representing their schools, the crowd's energy was infectious. “Go Bowdoin!” and “Let’s go Trinity!” were popular cheers, among many others.

White tents lined the sidewalk near the river, each selling shirts and souvenirs, advertising their products, or giving out free samples of food. A swarm of young students surrounded the ThinkThin bar booth, as they were handing out unlimited packaged samples of delicious breakfast bars. Four erg machines sat towards the Weld Exhibition where a young girl and boy tested out the machines. At the bottom of each erg was a sign with a picture of rowers on the Charles River and words that read “This Could Be You.”


The spirit of the regatta is different than that of other sporting events. Instead of two teams, each with avid fans chanting in unison, the Regatta brings in rowers from different universities, high schools and clubs. In addition, the U.S. national rowing team and other highly ranked national teams participate. Most of the fans include family or supportive friends. Rather than hectoring opposing teams, they are there to genuinely cheer on their loved ones, in hopes that they may actually hear them yelling.

Many were there just to linger, relax, and take part in such a laid-back event. It wouldn’t be surprising if a third or so of the spectators had no knowledge of the sport itself. On one patch of grass a toddler boy played with his mother. Next to them a couple from graduate school sat on a blanket. Behind them a group of Harvard students stood around munching on food from the Chowda in a Bowl and Fried Dough stands. On the path people walked their dogs and travelled from one bridge to the next. This weekend was intended for everyone: old and young, athletes and non-athletes.

Video filmed by Katie Levingston and Sanjay Setru. Edited by Katie Levingston/Gavel Media
All images via Megan Flynn/Gavel Media

Portland native with roots in Jersey. Lover of almonds, music and coffee shops. Desperately wants Stars Hallow to be a real place.