OCC’s men’s crew prepares for upcoming season with intense training, team building

An OCC’s men’s crew boat at the Long Beach Pancake Regatta where they won the team points trophy in 2022.  

Orange Coast College’s men’s crew is training hard for its 70th year as one of OCC’s longest-running and top sports

The men’s crew is working to compete in the regional championships and the national championships, both of which it competed in last season. The regional championships will take place at the end of April in Sacramento and the national championships will take place at the end of May in Tennessee. 

Even though OCC’s men’s crew is a community college team, they race against four-year schools such as UCLA, the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame and have been successful in these races. 

“[OCC’s men’s crew] has got a long, rich history of competition and success,” Coach Cam Brown said. “[We’ve had] Olympians come through the program and many, many more national team members.”

To prepare for their races, OCC’s men’s crew undergoes an intense and grueling training program, starting at 6 a.m., once or twice a day for six days a week and 10 months of the year. The men’s crew has no breaks from training. 

This year, there are more than 60 oarsmen on the team, all starting at different levels, with approximately one-third of the team being walk-ons. Each one of these oarsmen commits to showing up to practice and training. 

“We look for people who join the team and are willing to do the work,” Brown said. “When you have that group all committing, all showing up at Newport Harbor at 6:15 in the morning, it’s a lot. It’s a big commitment, but this team environment makes this experience very unique.”

Different from other team sports, in crew, there is no “star quarterback” or “star pitcher.” The  boat’s success relies on everyone working together in unison as one unit of eight oarsmen. 

While beginning training with walk-ons and those who’ve rowed before, the coaches would split up the boats to match people with similar experience levels, efficiently training the team. The more experienced rowers could get their workouts in, while the walk-ons could practice their technique and learn how to row. As oarsmen developed their skills, the oarsmen boats would be rotated to continue to push each oarsman while also making sure that everyone was being trained. 

Navy corpsman and student veteran Johann Figueroa is one of the walk-ons on OCC’s men’s crew this year. After being deployed to Afghanistan and spending six years in the Navy, Figueroa was excited to come across the crew because it “fills in the gap from leaving the platoon.” 

Figueroa also likes the physical challenge that rowing presents. 

“It’s intense and some of the craziest training I’ve been through,” Figueroa said. “I did track and judo, competing in both, and this is one of the gnarliest things I’ve done, but also the most rewarding.” 

The intense training and team building has given Figueroa something to look forward to in the spring semester. 

“I’m excited for my first season,” Figueroa said. “I’m glad the team brought me in and is teaching me.” 

Another one of OCC’s men’s crew walk-ons, Marine Corps scout sniper and student veteran Tommy Norris finds rowing to be a sport that clearly reflects the amount of work an athlete puts in. 

“It’s very much you get what you put in. Hard work equals success,” Norris said. “It’s not like you show up for the two-hour practice and you’re done. You have to do more after, whether that’s getting more meters in or eating right or getting sleep, it’s a sport that requires that overall dedication.” 

While the amount of work an athlete puts in reflects in their performance as an oarsman, the amount of work their teammates put in is equally important and requires trust among oarsmen. 

“I do like [rowing] because it’s an individual and team sport,” Norris said. “If you don’t pull your weight, then you’re letting other people down, but if other people aren’t pulling their weight it’s the same thing. You’ve got to be good yourself, but you got to work with the team.” 

After being in the Marine Corps for four-and-a-half years and stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton, Norris wanted to make sure he set himself up for success and having a community around him is a key factor. 

“I wanted to stay in the area, at least for a little bit, and OCC had a lot to offer, including an integrated college feel that I found through rowing,” Norris said. “I didn’t want to just show up to class and bounce – I wanted to immerse myself. I knew that making these friends and these commitments would help me transition.”

Second-year OCC student and returning oarsman Ayden Davis was a walk-on last year and won the national competition for freshman boat last year. 

“I like rowing because of the camaraderie,” Davis said. “It’s not like any other sport. We’re constantly training and I’m constantly surrounding myself with these guys. We go through these waves of emotions – sometimes we hate each other, sometimes we love each other. You get a human feeling from it for sure.” 

The other social aspect that rowing provides for Davis is the ability to meet lots of students with a variety of backgrounds. 

“You get to meet a lot of new people,” Davis said. “One kid on our team is from the Netherlands, and last year we had Cameron come in from South Africa. It’s a lot of diversity and especially with rowing it’s more of an international sport, which is really cool.” 

High school rower and first-year OCC student Jimmy Curry emphasized the importance of the team and the consistency that rowing provides for people. 

“It’s a big constant because it’s very demanding,” Curry said. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices for it which makes it more meaningful to the person doing it. Nobody is doing it for recognition, we don’t get a lot of attention. We do it for ourselves and for each other.”

Each individual oarsman makes personal sacrifices for the team and the team relies on every individual to make these sacrifices to have successful practices and competitions. 

“If we don’t come to practice, it’s a big deal,” Curry said. “It trickles down through the team, a boat might not be able to go out because one person didn’t show up. A whole boat doesn’t get to practice that day.” 

Davis sees this reliance on and pushing of one another as something that can be beneficial to an individual. 

“A lot of trust goes into it,” Davis said. “It will save a person, it will give you something to look forward to every day. Physically, you’re constantly growing and it feels great.” 

Curry agreed that crew provides a positive aspect and environment. 

“It’s a good thing to rely on and it’s a good purpose to have,” Curry said. “For people that don’t have a purpose, it can be their thing.” 

The crew spends a lot of time around each other, even outside of practice, doing things like bowling and skiing. 

“We hang out all the time and it’s a very important aspect,” Curry said. “They may not be the first people you pick to be your friends, but at the end of the day, you learn to love them because you understand them and get to know them better. What we go through together, it really meshes us together.” 

A team can’t train for a bond, but through intense physical training and a reliance on one another to show up, OCC’s men’s crew has created an important bond between oarsmen. 

“The team is our strength,” Brown said. 

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