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Students Set Sail in 35th Annual Roth Regatta

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A treasured Stony Brook University tradition, the 35th annual Roth Regatta was held under sunny skies on April 26, with more than 90 boats competing. Photos by John Griffin.

More than 5,000 students and community members gathered around Roth Pond on April 26 to celebrate and cheer on participants in Stony Brook University’s 35th annual Roth Regatta.

Clear skies and a gentle breeze provided optimal conditions for the boats, sailing under the theme “Unbound,” in which participants were tasked with unleashing their creativity, embracing individuality, and letting the unique designs tell the story of the group’s identity.

More than 90 boats representing clubs, organizations and administrative offices raced across the 200-yard Roth Pond in homemade boats constructed of only cardboard, duct tape and spray paint, competing in the Speedster (two-person) and Yacht (four-person) divisions.

The annual tradition, which takes place on the last Friday of April, began with 22 initial heats, followed by semi-final and final rounds. New for this year were conveyor belts to assist boats in getting into the pond, and to ensure that boats were not stuck in grass or mud.

Popular boat designs included Lightning McQueen, Pokémon character Lapras and Wolfie the Seawolf. Wolfie was both a spectator and a participant in the Regatta, rowing in one of the Yacht division boats.

The Yacht division winner was VESO (Veteran Student Association), while the Speedster winner was Scuderia Scooteroni, coming in first for the second year in a row.

The VESO team members spent 12 hours building their winning vessel, and offered this advice to future teams: “People design boats for when things are working, but you need to design for when things don’t work and to be prepared to deal with anything that might go wrong.”

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Curt Epstein ‘90, co-creator of the Roth Regatta, came back to campus to celebrate the event’s 35th anniversary, along with Rich Matzelle ‘91 and Penny Wong Matzelle ‘91, who succeeded Epstein as race organizers following his graduation.

In 1989, Epstein explained, the creators were given a $200 budget for the event, and 11 boats signed up to race. That number doubled the following year, and the Regatta has grown in popularity ever since. In 2017, the Roth Regatta won the National Association for Campus Activities’ (NACA) Your Best Campus Tradition contest for schools over 5,000.

“We really wanted to make sure that we had something that was run and driven by the students that embodied Stony Brook and they’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping it going,” Matzelle said. “It really is so much fun and it really is still for the students, and I love that.”

Epstein and Matzelle returned to participate as alumni, but after being awarded both fastest and best-looking boat, decided that their experience made the competition unfair, and planned to leave the competition to the current students.

“We decided to retire because we’ve had a lot of practice doing this,” Epstein said. “Students get up to four chances at most to win this thing, and we’re going to give them that chance.”

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This year was also the 10th anniversary of Roth Regatta Live!, the event livestream produced and hosted by students in the School of Communication and Journalism. Alumni from the 2014 livestream returned to the Regatta to reflect on their experiences.

Gaining experience behind and in front of the camera and adjusting to technical difficulties in real time helped prepare students for their careers.

“Just being a part of a live show experience on campus helped me prepare for being live in the number one network on TV, which was really cool,” said Jaclyn Lattanza Hand, ‘15.

The Regatta featured music, food and prizes along with the competition on the pond, and was live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook by the School of Communication and Journalism and the Stony Brook Media Group.

Beth Squire

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