On May 5th, 2023, the Club will celebrate the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). Founded in 1873 and operating continuously since 1880, the South End Rowing Club is one of the oldest in the city. The founding members of the Club were not from the “elite” East Coast college crews, but rather were drawn from the working classes of the ‘south end’ of San Francisco, and many South Enders worked on the waterfront.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, regattas were held throughout the San Francisco Bay region against other clubs: the Pioneer Rowing Club, the Golden Gate Rowing Club, the Undine Club of Sacramento, the Alameda Boat Club, and others. Popular regatta venues were Long Bridge (more or less Fourth Street), the Alameda Estuary, Richardson Bay (Marin) and Lake Merrit (Oakland). Of all of these historic rowing clubs, only the Ariel Rowing Club (1874), the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club (1877), and the South End Rowing Club (1873) remained operational into the 1970s. The Ariel Rowing Club folded in the late 1970s because it refused to admit women, and only the Dolphins and the South End remain.
Until the late 1970s, open water rowing in North America featured either sturdy wooden boats or modified lake boats (like wherries). But by 1984, MAAS Boats began making fiberglass, and eventually carbon fiber shells, specifically for open water rowing.
The South End Rowing Club fleet includes MAAS open water shells as well as the newest additions, coastal rowing boats. Our historic wooden boats include two six-person barges, hundred-year old Whitehalls, sleek Viking-class boats and many others—all of which are rowed and cared for by South Enders.
Much more of the Club’s rowing history can be found in South End: Sport and Community at the Dock of the Bay, by Bob Barde and Pat Cunneen. The book is available in the club office or from Green Apple Books.