The D.C. Strokes seems the very embodiment of the ''work hard, play hard'' ethos. It's Friday night at Titan, and a few topless, chiseled, Lycra-panted Strokes guys are weaving through the bearish crowd at the ''Woof! Happy Hour,'' selling raffle tickets. While looking most definitely out of place, these rowers nevertheless seem right at home in this jolly, slightly smoky, beer-infused atmosphere.
Switch gears and imagine the competitive members of D.C. Strokes, who since 1991 have been promoting rowing in the GLBT community, practicing their sport on the Anacostia River, seven months out of the year, four days per week, at 5:30 a.m. Better yet, take a look for yourself Saturday, June 3, at the team's signature Stonewall Regatta, now in its 13th year.
''The first regatta, I was a volunteer,'' says D.C. Strokes President Chuck Cisneros, of the 2005 event, who was entirely new to the sport of rowing at the time. ''I was out in the river on a safety boat. That was the first regatta I'd seen. It was exciting. It was definitely more fast-paced than I'd expected.''
D.C. Strokes members at last year's event
(Photo courtesy D.C. Strokes)
Competitors in the Stonewall Regatta, largely from regional teams with no GLBT-related affiliation, hit the Anacostia River at 9 a.m. for a full day, with races ending around 4 p.m. Races are broken into boats of two, four and eight people, with further category distinctions made among ages, skill levels and the like. The event is centered at the D.C. Strokes' home base, the Anacostia Boathouse, under the 11th Street Bridge and adjacent the Navy Yard. The boathouse offers public facilities, and vendors will be on-hand with food, Cisneros says. The only particular guidance Cisneros offers for those wanting to come down to the dock, get a look at rowing in action and cheer on the team is to ''keep it clean.'' For those who may not readily grasp the appeal of the rowing, he adds: ''Aside from the sport itself, it's a chance to see a lot of guys and gals in very tight outfits.''
While the nautical nomenclature may be intimidating to the uninitiated, there's nothing to fear. Although ''coxswain'' might sound exotic.
''The coxswain...is the leader of the boat, and steers via a rudder and gives rowing commands,'' Cisneros explains. From the dock, however, all a spectator needs to be aware of is who crosses the finish line first.
Cisneros, who despite a long-standing curiosity knew nothing of the sport till last year's regatta, had no problems finding his bearings.
''I went online, and saw that they had a novice program,'' he says. The team's month-long introductory program is a bit like a first date with no obligation to make a follow-up call: ''If you didn't like it, you were free to go. But I fell in love with it."
D.C. Strokes offers an array of programs for different skill levels, or degree of interest. And returning to the ''play hard'' side of the formula, D.C. Strokes is also a social organization. As evidence, the Stonewall Regatta is sandwiched between two festive events, both open to the public. On the night of Friday, June 2, there is an open invitation to join the crew for a carb-loading pasta dinner at Buca Di Beppo at 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW. Saturday night, it's the official Stonewall Regatta After-Party at the Hawk and Dove, 329 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, at 8 p.m.
For extensive information about the D.C. Strokes and the Stonewall Regatta visit www.dcstrokes.org. Those planning on joining the D.C. Stokes for the June 2 dinner at Buca De Beppo are asked to contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.