Four years ago, Lee Oldak, who owns the Amagansett Beach Company, and who, though not a rower himself, had been selling shells down by the seashore, went to the Snowflake Regatta on the Peconic River in Riverhead, and became hooked.
“I loved the tailgate scene, with people cheering on the rowers from the shore . . . and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ That’s the short of it — that’s what got me started.”
As for rowing as a sport, Oldak, who heads up the Sag Harbor Community Rowing club, which launches single, double, and four-person (quad) sculls three seasons a year from a Sag Harbor Village-owned access at Redwood Cove, describes it as “the fountain of youth . . . I swear by it. I’m 56 and in the best shape of my life. Aside from sailing, I don’t do any other exercise.”
Asked if rowing didn’t require the rower to use every muscle in his or her body, Oldak, who since last month has had six sixth-grade girls under his wing, said with a smile, “It doesn’t require that you you use every muscle, but if you do it right, you use every muscle.”
As for his young students, recruited by Catherine Spolarich, who had participated in his summer camp overseen by two Columbia University crew members, Dan Kirrane and Bruno Slemme, Oldak said, “They’re too young to race [in regattas coming soon in Riverhead and Oyster Bay], but they’ve been very coachable. These kids are small, but they’re handling the oars. You should see them in a quad. The only downside is that they need help getting the boats in the water — I have the boys help them do that.”
One of the boys who helps, and who rows with the younger group, is Adrian Gaston Kestler, an eighth grader who had sailed with a Pierson-sponsored junior group at the Breakwater Yacht Club until it was discontinued. “I started rowing a year ago, in the fall and in the spring,” Adrian said on emerging from a recent practice session. “The coaching’s good. I want more kids to join.”
Oldak and a veteran oarsman, Andrew Hart-Adler, the founder of the University of North Carolina’s crew team, who, during the aforementioned practice session, worked in a quad with a Ross School student, Will Benedict, and two from Southampton High School, Brett Listl, a former football player, and Will Mack, have been “teaching a lot of technique.”
“It’s like golf — the technique is never-ending,” said Oldak. “I’m still learning.”
Oldak credited Sag Harbor’s former mayor Greg Ferraris with having given the club the boost it needed in agreeing that it could use the village-owned Cove Park access strip. In season, the club’s six racing sculls — two singles, two doubles, and two quads — and its 10 recreational shells are kept on racks, not far from the little beach that serves as the launching area. Both Oldak and Hart-Adler said they’d love to have the village put in a dock there.
Both too would love it if the numbers would increase. “Sixth graders haven’t reached the point where they’re doing sports, but after that it becomes a problem given all the things kids can do here,” said Oldak. “There are college scholarships out there for the girls, and rowing can help the boys get into college. Dan [Kirrane] was in a sweep program at Chaminade and got into Columbia with a B average. He’s rowing with Columbia’s eight in the Head of the Charles regatta today in Boston.”
Will Benedict, the aforementioned Ross freshman, who would like to go to a boarding school that has a crew team, perhaps Salisbury, where Hart-Adler went, said that while he plays basketball, “this is my favorite sport — I love anything on the water.”
“He’s a natural,” said the 6-foot-3 Hart-Adler, who once coached U.N.C.’s women’s team, “the first one in the South.”
In collegiate competition, oarsmen and women handle one oar, not two, as is the case with the Sag Harbor club’s sculls.
“Ours is a sculling program, not a sweep program,” said Oldak, who’s certified by U.S. Rowing as a Level 2 coach. “College coaches like it that kids come to them not overdeveloped on one side, but with the balance that comes from handling two oars.”
The club, he added, which is a nonprofit one, was “always looking for donations,” whether they might be in the form of checks, shells, or uniforms. “Money’s better than shells, though we’ll take either.”
The year-round dues are $250 for adults and $149 for 18-and-unders accompanied by an adult. Members can avail themselves of the club’s shells “during any daylight hour unless they’re being used by students.”
Though the sixth graders won’t be racing in the Peconic River regatta on Nov. 13, Oldak was to have taken them to Riverhead yesterday, weather permitting, so that they could get the feel of maneuvering around other boats, docks, buoys, and encroaching shorelines. He’s done the same thing with them in the upper reaches of Redwood Cove too.
“I’ll row in the Riverhead regatta, and so will Robert Montgomery, a former U.S. national champion who lives in Sag Harbor the year round and rows with us,” said Oldak. “And Roxanne Robinson, who’s been involved since we started. And I’m hoping we’ll have a boys double. We’ll bring the girls so they can watch.”
After that, he said, he would leave for Florida. Thus he would not oversee ergometer rowing machine training this winter at Pierson High School or at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, as he has in the past.
“We’re expecting to double our numbers [of high school students] in the spring — we’re expecting 16. . . . Anybody can come. The first day will be Tuesday, April 3.”