On a beautiful afternoon along the Charles, rowers were busy bringing their boats into parking lots Thursday as business owners and staff set up for the weekend under the tents that lined the river.

The Head of the Charles, one of the world’s largest rowing events, regularly draws thousands of athletes and spectators to the riverbanks. And after being held as a virtual event in 2020, the regatta has expanded this year to include three days of races.

Ahead of the 57th annual event, five teenage girls from Redwood Scullers, a rowing club in based in Redwood City, Calif., were gathered in one of the parking lots chatting, joking and looking around the race site.

“I've never seen a regatta this big before,” said Lila Henn. “I mean, this is my first Head of the Charles, but just walking around this area with all the tents is insane.”

The girls all attend different schools in California. They came together through a love of the sport, which was much newer to some of them than others.

“I started rowing as like a pandemic hobby, and then as I did it more and more, I realized I liked it more and more, and so I just kind of got more into it. And here I am,” said Georgia Hutchison.

Nearby, Sam Roberts put boats on display at his tent. His company, Fluidesign, builds custom shells for elite rowers, including 20 customers he said were going to pick up their orders just before competing in the Head.

“We have all of our boats custom fit to the athletes,” he said. “So we take all their measurements, we pre-calibrate the boat, make all the adjustments, and all they need to do is just add water and start rowing.”

An old, bearded man wearing a Casitas Rowing club shirt sits at a picnic table in the shade.
Don Tanhauser, and 87-year-old from California, will be one of the first single starters in the 57th annual Head of the Charles.
Mary Blake GBH News

Competitor Don Tanhauser was sitting by himself on a picnic bench in some shade, relaxing after a morning practice on the water. He is 87 years old and picked up rowing at the age of 74. He said a memorable sight along this very river got him started.

“I saw somebody rowing on a single on the Charles going under a bridge, and it looked so graceful,” he said. “And then one year a junior college had a summer class on how to learn to row. I took the class and stayed with it.”

His advice: It’s never too late to start.