Wichita State head rowing coach Calvin Cupp reaches for the shell, resting on a metal rack, and slides it away from the wall.
“Isn’t that cool?” he asks. “It makes it very easy. I did that with one hand.”
While pulling a shell out of storage is a routine part of the rowing world, it remains a thrill for Cupp and his rowers. They are early in their second year in the River Vista Boathouse, a 7,000-square-foot facility with room for their 32 shells, lockers, shower, equipment and studies.
It is a quite the contrast to their previous vagabond existence.
The Shockers rowed out of a trailer during the previous eight years. Before that, Cupp estimates the team used five or six different places near the Arkansas River to house shells and equipment. During Cupp’s 20 years as coach, he and his rowers prepared for almost every practice by loading a trailer for a 6 a.m. practice. They met in the dark. They stretched in the dark. When it rained, the meetings continued in the rain.
After practice, they loaded the trailer again.
“I just would not want to know how many hours I’ve spent moving equipment around town,” Cupp said.
River Vista Boathouse, located in River Vista Apartments (150 N. McLean Blvd.) near the Douglas Street Bridge, opened in October 2018. Over the past year, Cupp enjoyed watching his athletes get comfortable in the new home, using the new building to impress recruits and reminiscing with alumni about the old days.
“It’s nice to have a place you’re proud of,” said senior Olga Navarro, a senior industrial engineering major. “We spend more time on the water. We spend a lot less time prepping everything. It’s so much easier for practice.”
On Nov. 3, Wichita State will participate in the Frostbite Regatta at the Riverside Ralph Wulz Tennis Center on the LIttle Arkansas. The Wichita Rowing Association hosts the event.
The boathouse simplifies the lives of the rowers. It gives them a place to shower, study and gather, in addition to practice time. Tools and equipment are always available for repairs and maintenance. Shells are always secured away from hail and snow.
“It’s a lot less stressful and a lot more convenient now,” said senior Nick Thompson, a criminal justice major. “It’s just really great, especially seeing other programs around the country. It feels really nice to be one of the programs that has a good boathouse and a base of operations.”
Ben Stoeck, a freshman from Olathe, swam in high school. He wanted to attend Wichita State because of its mechanical engineering program. He joined the rowing program because he wanted to compete in a team sport and for the physical conditioning. His first practice in August was his first time in a shell.
The boathouse also helped sell him on the program.
“It was kind of mind-blowing to see it for the first time,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see this much. It’s all brand-new and all real fancy. I’m very grateful to be here.”
In late August, former rower Miguel Gonzalez visited the boathouse. Gonzalez, a 1993 Wichita State graduate, lives in Washington, D.C., where he works for the National Education Association. He talked to the rowers after practice and told them how important the experience was during his college time and how the friendships remain.
“You make friends for life,” he said. “It’s not an easy sport. You wake up, you go, you row your heart out. It’s not a coincidence rowers make very good students.”
After practice, Cupp gave Gonzalez a tour of the boathouse. Then Cupp set him off in one of WSU’s shells to row on the Arkansas River for the first time in 25 years.
“What a facility, what a contribution to the Wichita community to have this boathouse downtown … where I spent many mornings rowing with my teammates,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just in awe of Coach Cupp, not only having the vision, but the will to execute that vision and make this facility happen.”