For the men’s Orange Coast College crew team, success has not been easy.
Between the varsity and novice teams, these athletes are a rare club as the only community college-level crew in the entire country. Because of this feat, the team exclusively competes against Division One, four-year universities.
Head coach Cameron Brown leads the team. An Australian native, he came to the United States when he was working at a sports medicine clinic in Aspen, Colo.
His next step was becoming a strength and conditioning coach for the Saint Louis Cardinals and later coached rowing for Oklahoma City University.
Just under five miles away from OCC’s campus in the Newport Bay, Coast’s crew team trudges out into the waters at 6:30 a.m. for two hours, six days a week. The team then practices on land two or three afternoons a week by lifting weights or using rowing machines.
On most days in the water, the team rows roughly 20 kilometers or about 15 miles.
When the team isn’t practicing, it’s racing. Races average six minutes and are highly intensive, using every major muscle group in the body. The science of rowing is more than just using their arms to generate power. An athlete’s legs are just as important in the rowing process.
Unlike most sports at OCC, crew is year-round.
“When school is in, crew is in,” Brown said. “We start the first week of the fall semester and have two or three weeks off at Christmas, but that’s it.”
The countless hours on both land and sea paid off, when on March 24, the men’s team completed the three-peat at the 54th annual Newport Regatta. The race included schools such as runner-up UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State University, UCLA, Loyola Marymount University and more.
Coast didn’t just win the regatta, the team dominated. In six total races, the varsity and novice teams won four.
At OCC, the teams are separated by varsity and novice eight-person boats. To be in a varsity boat, a rower must have experience. The rowers with minimal experience and true freshmen are placed on the novice team.
Following the Newport Regatta, the team traveled to San Diego to compete in the 2019 Crew Classic, and all four boats qualified for the grand finals.
At the Crew Classic, the boats held their ground against top four-year universities like Yale University, Purdue University, UC Davis and UCLA.
“Not only are they competing against four-year universities, but third and fourth-year college students,” OCC athletic director Jason Kehler said. “We’re talking about true freshman and sophomores in a varsity boat competing against someone who has been training for four years.”
Even though Coast seemingly is at a disadvantage in any and every race the team competes in, they also are slightly at advantage due to location.
Because of Southern California’s warm climate, the team has more training time in the water than other national rowing powerhouses.
Teams on the east coast don’t get as much time on the water because for a good part of the winter, the water is frozen over, but according to Brown, that doesn’t give Coast as much as an advantage as one may think, because less time on the water means more time in the gym.
According to Brown, about two-thirds of every rowing team at OCC is made entirely of athletes with zero rowing experience. This means that the coaching staff trains its athletes from the ground up, teaching most of them everything they need to know.
If an OCC crew athlete is looking to take their athletic career to the next level at a four-year university, they are sometimes seen with an advantage because they have competed against the teams.
According to Kehler, many of the teams Coast competes against often has rowers in their boats that once went to OCC.
“Coaches from other teams know that when they get an athlete from Orange Coast College, they know what they’re getting,” Brown said. “If they come from Orange Coast College they know how to train, how to compete and they know what to expect at the university level. They can be confident that the athlete they are getting knows what they are doing.”
Because of its community college status, OCC gets athletes from not just the Orange County surrounding area. The school is able to recruit athletes from all over the country.
“So much credit goes to Cam [Brown] and his coaching staff. Those guys work so hard,” Kehler said. “They’re recruiting guys without the aide of scholarships against schools that do have scholarships. Any of our other sports you have a level of competition and you are competing against similar opponents.”
With its status as a community college, OCC cannot provide its athletes with a scholarship, whereas in the rowing department, all the team’s competitors can.
This instantly makes Coast the underdogs, which is a term that Brown and the team have welcomed.
“We’re different, but we embrace it,” Brown said.