The history of rowing draws its roots from the origin of time, as soon as man sought to move on the water. The sports phenomenon dates from the beginning of the first industrial revolution. The history of our sport is full of ideas, actors, events, and experiences. It is important to keep the tracks because they allow us to understand the present and envisage the future.
It is necessary to go back very far in antiquity to recover the uses of the OAR. Numerous accounts testify to the keen interest that the ancients (Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans) had in the pleasures of water. Here are some examples: :
In Egypt, during the reign of Sesostris, the 12th dynasty of the Pharaohs, in the 19th century BC, the Navy owned buildings named “Penteconters”, built by fifty rowing boats, each of which operated a rowing boat. Ancient Egyptian monuments also provide many sailing scenes,
in Greece, the stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey record many boats using sails and oars,
in the time of Caesar, men fiercely compete for trophies in Row games played by the galleys of the patricians. At the same time in Rome, the famous” Naumachias”, real simulachres of naval combat, take place in amphitheaters arranged where the players, chosen from among the slaves, fight to the death, under the acclaim of the crowd.
Closer to Us
After that, the sailing Navy made considerable progress and gradually replaced the rowing boats. Many boats, however, continued to roam, such as some warships (Norman Drakkars and Byzantine Dromons) and galleys, which sailed in a mixed mode.
Rowing is also developed by many fishermen (such as the Newfoundland). For a long time, it was the only effective means of rescuing ships in distress in bad weather.
This use of the OAR has also for a long time allowed smugglers, fishers and Mariners to work on the rivers.
The Discovery of a New Practice
In the years 1830-1840, the population enjoyed a well-deserved peace after the tremors of the Revolution and the wars of the consulate and The Empire. She feels the need to practice physical exercises, but these are few at the time, the bicycle does not exist yet!
The first canoes appeared on the Seine around 1823, coming from Rouen and Le Havre and were built by carpenters of the Merchant Navy.
The Canoeing has just been discovered by some originals, real precursors who launch the fashion. This practice, considered as one of the first popular leisure activities is also one of the first athletic and mechanical sports. It soon fascinates all social classes. Technical innovations are making it more and more efficient and, with the help of notoriety, various manufacturers are establishing themselves in Paris and the surrounding area. In 1834, for the first time in Paris, there were boat races in rowboats.
At this time, many artists were passionate about canoeing and did much for its fame. Among the most famous are the writers Alphonse KARR, Théophile GAUTIER and their friend the columnist Lucien GATAYES, but also Alphonse ADAM, Louis and Théodore GUDIN, Victor DELIGNY…
In a few years, in the Paris region, there were 2,000 canoes, 10,000 strollers, and 30 construction sites. This true fashion quickly spreads to the big cities: Lyon, Reims, and Bordeaux.
The painters, especially the Impressionists (SISLEY, MONET, RENOIR, CAILLEBOTTE…), leaves us with an important testimony of this time when canoeing became a true social fact.
Several Trends are Emerging
- the “stroll” canoeing practiced by the true romantics, nature lovers and the open air, relatively wise,
- the boating of the “yellowtail and big-time gambler”, the less discreet, a pretext to party and be seen,
- the “serious” canoeing of respectable rowers from the aristocracy and liberal classes. The latter gave birth to the sports movement of our rowing, organizing the first races and founding the first societies.
Gradually an antagonism appears between the “canoe boats with canoeing “and the” serious canoe boats”, passionate about the sport. The freedom of behavior of the former caused a scandal in upper society and damaged the reputation of the latter, who needed support to obtain the necessary subsidies to finance ever more expensive competition boats.
Thus one could read under the pen of J. MANCHON in” L’aviron “of 1911:” and that is why one must profess the most profound contempt for these jesters of the nautical sport that is called canotiers. Legendary river paladins, some survivors of their species still drag along the banks their composure and their nullity.»
The Practice is Organized
In 1838, a group of passionate amateurs created the Société des Régates du Havre: it is the oldest of the French nautical sports societies. Rouen in 1847, Lyon in 1855, Bergerac in 1860 and Boulogne Sur Mer in 1861 founded a regatta society.
It is important to note that the purpose of the “regatta society” is the organization of regattas and nautical festivals, as well as the establishment of the necessary regulations to ensure the regularity of the events. There are not yet any club-houses as we know them today.
Roundabout racing, which takes place at sea and in the river, is popular. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners, and the public takes part in pari-mutuel betting. 1857 saw the appearance of” water jockeys”, mercenaries of race, real professionals under the rule of the silver bourgeois. The major newspapers report the nautical duels of the most famous teams like “The Witch of the waters” or “the Duke of Framboise” who use the press to launch their challenges “to all the rowers of France”.
In Paris, it was not until 1853 that the first “Société des Régates Parisiennes” (S. R. P.) appeared. This is the source of much progress and intends to give a single direction to canoeing in France. His goals were to encourage” a taste for water racing ” by organizing regattas, to sponsor the creation of societies in the provinces (30 until 1869), and to discipline canoeing.
A bold reform was being undertaken through new regulations, particularly on equipment. Made only in oak, it can now be made in any kind of wood or material, and this with less restrictive measures. The boats are divided into several Series.
Very quickly, and as early as 1856, only two kinds were distinguished:
- the boats armed with wearers: outriggers,
- the boats without wearing: gigs free.
There are now races at one, two, four, six, or eight oarsmen. The principle of on-board races is established. This is the beginning of the preparation of the program indicating after registration and drawing of lots, the order of the departures and the line numbers. The Rowing Club of Paris became the agent of this new sport orientation by creating the championship of the Seine in the boat. The first edition was won by Frédéric LOWE in 1853.
In 1867, the “rowing” obtained the reward for their efforts: the public authorities entrusted the SRP and the Rowing Club with the organization of the regattas of the Universal Exhibition in Paris. The success of these races made Paris the capital of rowing.
The Second Empire corresponds to a golden age because, apart from horse races, regattas are without competition, they represent the sports show. As early as 1860, the great movement in favor of amateurism gained the upper hand over professionals by gradually eliminating the excesses and cheating associated with obtaining cash prizes.
From the Beginning of the Century to The First World War
After the defeat of the Franco-German war of 1870, the spirit of revenge gave rise to the sports and associative movement that benefited rowing. Fifty societies were founded between 1872 and 1882. At that time, they were often Omnisports; rowing was practiced alongside “conscription sports” (shooting, fencing, military Gymnastics) and new athletic sports such as rugby, football, tennis or the velocipede. Others Group under one flag all the water sports of their city.
In response to the domination of the Parisian rowing community, the provincial clubs organized themselves into federations with their own rules. Their different racing codes make it difficult and Stormy to run any Regatta and hinder all plans for a national federation. Since the late 1870s, however, there have been many attempts at union. But all conventions and conventions fail on the issue of”amateurs”.
All groups exclude water professionals such as mariners, fishermen or builders of pleasure craft from amateur status, but no agreement on cash prices seems possible. Should they be rejected by denouncing them as a disguised wage or should they be accepted as a means of financing expensive boats? These quarrels weaken and discredit rowing, especially since sports such as gymnastics already have a political structure that allows them to be the privileged interlocutors of the public authorities.