Inspired by his awe of the Yale boathouse and his experience as a first year rower at Vassar in Poughkeepsie (NY), Andrew Lewis sought out rowing upon transferring to Rice in 1987. Although initially disappointed by the lack of a club, Andy made it his goal to start a rowing team at Rice University, the first step in fulfilling the long-standing hope, a dream of the university’s forefathers, of a southern collegiate crew. During the ‘80s, rowing in Texas was quickly gaining recognition on and off campuses as one of the few perfect all-around sports. The time was right for Lewis’s ambition; all that was needed was a boat, water to row on, and support from the community.
As the story goes, a meeting with the coach from Kansas State at a regatta in Austin led to the arrangement to purchase an old wooden boat (circa 1950) ready for delivery upon payment. In order to raise funds, the small crew set up camp in the courtyard next to Anderson Hall for what would be the first of many crew row-a-thons. The rowers set up one rowing machine (an “erg”) and the goal of the fundraising event was to keep the flywheel (the mechanism that provides resistance) spinning for an entire 24 hours. The stakeout lasted from Thursday at 4:00 PM and ended on Friday at 4:00 PM. The rowers ached, heads spun, and blisters swelled, but when it was all over the group had fundraised more than enough to purchase the first Rice crew shell.
Meanwhile across campus, Hannes Hofer, a Danish native and long-time rower sat at his desk working for Facilities Engineering & Planning helping make Rice campus a livable and sustainable place. Hannes caught wind of the small group of impassioned rowers and quickly jumped at the chance to coach the fledgling club. Coach Hannes led a strong team for a decade, taking the young rowers to a number of national regattas with great success including Head of the Chattahoochee, Head of the Charles, Head of the Colorado and more. Trophies and accolades aside, Hannes was a leader and loving friend. Many rowers saw greatness in him and looked to emulate his drive in their own studies and training. Notably, Hannes guided a young Torrey Folk, who later became a two-time national rowing champion and silver medalist at the 1998 world championship
Hannes was the first of many coaches; Andy, the first of many rowers. These stories, the initial cogs of the greater working machine, are just a few of many that make up Rice Crew’s rich history. The team has always been listed as a club sport, but in reality, has always operated like a varsity program. Training over the years has always been as demanding as the most rigorous varsity sports, and the team has always been acknowledged by the Athletics Department as a formidable group. Rowers have also been historically noted to be among the top bikers during Beer Bike due to the high level of strength and endurance-training rowing requires.
Rice Crew has called a few places home over the years including Oyster Creek and Clear Lake; today, the team resides on Buffalo Bayou thanks to efforts driven by coaches David Alviar and Michael Matson through Row4Rice and former coach Chad Shaw via Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Although training location influences the team’s performance, the rowers know that wherever their boats and hearts are is where they call home and will give it their all.