Students lined Roth Pond at Stony Brook University on Friday, with their cardboard boats secured with only duct tape, for the 34th annual Roth Pond Regatta race.  Credit: Barry Sloan

Question: How do students at Stony Brook University blow off steam before finals?

Answer: Party, of course, in the form of boat races across the campus pond, sailing in homemade vessels constructed only of cardboard and a boatload of duct tape.

The Roth Pond Regatta, a campus tradition for 34 years, brought a carnival-picnic atmosphere to the high-minded institution Friday, along with a bit of coming-of-age craziness before the big exams.

Cameron Ekeman, a junior, said his group filled up his Camry with cardboard boxes from local businesses to construct their 9-foot boat. The physics major used a buoyancy formula to strategically configure its design, so the boat would float without folding up. Cardboard mailing tubes were added for stability.

"The key is that it has to float and be flexible," said Ekeman, whose group added a blowup alligator and a spooky lantern to the boat for good measure.

There were dozens of boats in the competition. A good number of these cardboard contraptions — some built for two people, others for four — failed make it across the 200-yard-long pond.

Carl Wolpert, left, and Zach Cytryn take an unintended dip Friday.

Carl Wolpert, left, and Zach Cytryn take an unintended dip Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Han Glavan, a junior, had an excited but slightly nervous look on her face as her group, the Undergraduate Anthropology Society, pushed her boat out onto the green water. Though she paddled mightily, the boat made it a little way and then imploded, took on water and collapsed in a splashy heap.

Glavan found herself flopping about, up to her neck in the shallow pond, and trudged her way back to shore.

"The structural integrity didn't hold up," said the soaking-wet student, laughing and shivering. "I got water in my mouth. I should have learned how to swim."

Such was the spirit of the event, hearkening back to the college high jinks of yesteryear, when students tried to pack as many people as possible into a Volkswagen or a phone booth.

Students cheer for their teammates Friday.

Students cheer for their teammates Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A two-person team tries to navigate their way across the...

A two-person team tries to navigate their way across the pond. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Some 3,000 students and guests surrounded the pond, many perched on blankets, eating free hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob.

Jessica Glowacki sat with her family on a blue blanket by the pond, circled by tall trees sporting their spring greenery. A former student at Stony Brook, she recalled staying up till 4 in the morning helping to build a boat that competed in the regatta years ago.

"I'm pretty sure it sank immediately," said Glowacki, 37, of Plainview.

She brought her two children — Eliana, 4, and Jeremy, 3 — who, because of the pandemic, had never been to a gathering this big. Jeremy was "too excited to even eat ice cream," his mother said. Eliana came in her pink princess outfit.

"She likes attention, and people saying she's cute," her mother said.

Another crew sets off in Friday's regatta.


Another crew sets off in Friday's regatta.

Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The theme of this year's nautical event was "A Fairy Tale Regatta: This is Our Swamp," and students brought in boats honoring "Lord of the Rings," "Pinnochio," "Shrek" and, appropriately, the Titanic. It was hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government.

The college's Science Fiction Forum built a tribute to "Lord of the Rings," said junior Pierre Zimmerli, who dressed as the Witch-king, replete with a black mask made of cardboard, of course.

"I got my work done early so I could enjoy the day," said the student majoring in biomedical engineering. He agreed the day helped relieve the stress of upcoming finals.

"Let it out," he said.

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