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Officials respond to Riverhead Snowflake Regatta ‘carnage’ video

Riverhead Snowflake Regatta ‘carnage’ video

Last Sunday’s Snowflake Regatta in Riverhead made waves this week after a video documenting a series of collisions narrated by some excited spectators surfaced on YouTube, attracting wide-scale attention.

The video, titled “Snowflake Regatta Carnage 2014,” has received nearly 670,000 views since it was published Tuesday. The story was picked up by several outlets, with the “least competent group of rowers ever assembled in one place” being used to describe the race by popular sports website Deadspin.

According to East End Rowing President William Hale, this is the first time in the 10 years the group has organized the event that an incident like this has occurred.

“When events are photographed or videoed, they only come from one angle, they only capture one side,” Hale said. “It’s not the full picture, and details are left out.”

But what actually happened to cause the so-called “carnage”?

The event in question was in the high school women’s novice division — meaning all eight competitors in each boat were experienced, but hadn’t necessarily competed on that course before. According to Lee Oldak, director of Sag Harbor Community Rowing and coach of one of the teams involved, the real trouble began when the coxswain, or captain, of a boat waiting on the sidelines for an upcoming race lost control and began to float into the middle of the course.

“The boat drifted away from the sidelines and was actually moving backwards,” Oldak said. “It should never happen in a race, with boats going in two different directions.”

For the rowers, the scramble to the finish line became a fleeting attempt to evade the wayward boat. According to Oldak, the narrow width of the course near the finish line made for difficult navigation, causing the other boats involved to spiral in different directions and end up stranded on the shoreline piled atop each other.

Hale said East End Rowing is looking at the causes of the collision from all angles to determine exactly what happened and develop preventive measures in the future.

“There are so many variables that could contribute to this that need to be considered before coming to conclusions,” Hale said. “What if there was something wrong with one of the boats that affected the steering? Those are the things we need to assess to truly understand what happened.”

At around the 2:40 mark in the video, viewers can see one of the boats untangle itself from the bushes on shore, only to get snagged in the orange flag that designated the finish line.

“It was a comedy of errors that just got worse, and watching it unfold from the sidelines was incredible,” Oldak said. “It was really frustrating because we saw what was going to happen before the collisions occurred.”

Oldak, like Hale, finds the lack of context in the YouTube video unfortunate, including the audio of spectators commenting on the action, which included an expletive.  

“The problem with the video was that it gave the wrong impression of the parents — most of them were actually trying to help,” Oldak said.

Hale aims to keep morale up for future participants.

“Just like any sport, things like this happen once and awhile,” Hale said. “These kids, they love it, they love the sport — they wake up early to practice and they do it every day. We just want to make it enjoyable for them.”

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