Varsity (rowing regatta)

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The Skadi four and supporters in the water after winning the 124th Varsity in 2007.
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Houten, Netherlands
Years active 1878-Present
Previous event 6 April 2014
Next event 5 April 2015
Participants approx. 200 crews
Organised by KNSRB and U.S.R. Triton (club)

The Varsity is a rowing regatta on the Amsterdam–Rhine Canal in Houten, Netherlands each Spring. The Varsity is the oldest and most prestigious student rowing regatta in the Netherlands.

The Varsity is one of the few student-only rowing races and has a fever-pitch rivalry. Traditional elements are combined with new technology and rowing philosophy. While rowing crews defend the honour of the club on the water, spectators on the levee are traditionally brawling with equal fanaticism.

Open for all traditional race rowing classes like the 4+, 4-, 2-, Skiff. Two races in traditional clinker-built boats (overnaads). These traditional boats are often rowed by rowers who cannot participate in the normal races.

The main event is the Oude Vier (Varsity Four, literally 'Old Four') which is rowed in a 4+. The best rowers of all student rowing clubs participate in this event.[1]

Most of the traditions in student rowing in the Netherlands evolve from the Varsity. A common toast within clubs is: "[May the club] win the Varsity!" Clubs which have not won the Varsity for a long time even write songs about it.

The winner of the race is supposed to give a 'kroegjool'. A big party in celebration of the victory. All members of the other participating clubs are invited and drink beer for free.


Until the early 2000s club members of Laga, Aegir, Skadi and Njord would fight earlier in the rowing season for the supposed victory in the Varsity. During this 'kipvechten' (chicken fighting) a (frozen) chicken would hang from the ceiling in Njord's boathouse. The club who retrieved the chicken would win the Varsity. Often the coxswain would be thrown into the air to catch the chicken. This tradition ended after the number of broken bones and general damage to Njord's boathouse went sky high.


The biggest student rowing club in the Netherlands, Nereus, has also carried home a number of victories. The three founding clubs, Njord, Laga and Triton follow in order of wins. The overall ranking is a bit misleading for contemporary achievements: Triton hasn't won a varsity since 1967 and Njord hasn't won since 1988. Skadi won 5 consecutive races in 2006-2010. The non-KNSRB clubs, Orca, Okeanos and Euros have won since their participation began in 1973. Other non-KNSRB clubs are yet to achieve victory.

Two races from 1915 and 1916 are never counted towards the total score because of a severe reduction in most sport during those years of World War I in the Netherlands .

Total wins to date
Club number of wins
Nereus 39
Laga 30
Njord 21½ (*)[n 1]
Triton 15
Skadi 9
Aegir 6
Orca 5
Argo [n 1]
Okeanos 1
Euros 1



The history of the varsity starts with the foundation of the first student rowing club in the Netherlands. On 5 June 1874 the K.S.R.V. "Njord" was originated on behalf of J.W.T. Cohen Stuart. Almost immediately after the founding Prince Henry of the Netherlands became the patron of Njord. Soon other rowing clubs started to emerge. In Delft D.S.R.V. Laga was founded in 1876. The Groningen student club G.S.R. Aegir originated in 1878. All student rowing clubs of this period started as 'subdivisions' of bigger and older student corporations like Vindicat atque Polit. This meant all club were 'born' with a natural rivalry.[2][3][4]

In England the sport of rowing was at that time more developed and already had a tradition of rowing races between universities. The best example is The Boat Race between Oxford and University. This provided the inspiration for a similar Dutch race.[2]

In 1878 the Leiden Student Rowing Club KSRV Njord (nl) challenged the rowing club of Delft, D.S.R.V. Laga. Laga accepted the challenge and raced against Njord on 2 July 1878 on the 'Galgewater' (Gallows water) in Leiden. The race contained two turning-buoys and had a length of 3200 meters. Laga won with a margin of 12 seconds. The rematch was two years later, and, with a few exceptions, has been yearly since.[2]

Members of G.S.R. Aegir, dispute the official history and claim that both clubs decided to race in celebration of the founding of Aegir in February 1878.[3]

The early days[edit]

A third competitor arrived in 1882, U.S.R. Triton (nl) from Utrecht. This would become a key point in the history of the Varsity and student rowing in the Netherlands. The three clubs decided to form the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Studenten Roeibond or KNSRB (Dutch Student Rowing Association). This body would be responsible for the organisation of the Varsity.[2]

The first official Varsity was in 1883. The race was for the first time on neutral terrain and the equivalent of a golden medal, a 'gouden blik' became the price for the winner. In this race the turning-buoy emerged as a match-maker since Laga and Triton collied at the turn and never finished the race.[2]

In the following years the race grew in size. More boat classes, more competitors and more spectators. The race moved to Haarlem in 1885 after residents complained about the disturbance of the Sunday rest. In Haarlem was it possible to race without buoy. Rowing crews started to train on a daily basis for the race. This was unusual at the time and thus resulted in crews dominating for years. The race moved again in 1902 to the Zweth, a brook between Delft and Rotterdam. Because of the small waterway only two crews could compete together. Qualifications for the final were necessary until another move in 1914 to the North Sea Canal.

40 years after the founding of G.S.R. Aegir they participated for the first time in the Varsity of 1918 and thus could join the NSRB. The long distance from Groningen to the other clubs made participation impossible before. With a lead of six boat lengths, they won their first varsity. It would take another 38 years for the second victory.


Varsity 1938

The Varsity didn't cause much national attention until 1930, when two drunken varsity spectators from Laga decided to infiltrate the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.[4] This and other incidents even led to questions in the House of Representatives.

In 1937 the race was moved to the Bosbaan in Amstelveen. Within the rowing world this caused much uproar. The Bosbaan was only 2000 meters long, too short for the traditional 3000 meters. And the course was a little too narrow for the five competing boats. Varsity winners handed in their prize and honorary members of the NSRB resigned in the dispute over the new location. Simultaneously it was debated to row the main event in the coxless four instead of the coxed four.

After Laga openly asked for a new location, Triton proposed Jutphaas as a new location for the race. Triton swore that it would organise the varsity on behalf of the NSRB as long as the race was rowed in (the neighbourhood of) Utrecht. An oath they still keep.

Second World War[edit]

Under German occupation, the Varsity was a forbidden event. However, Triton was allowed to organise the Varsity in 1941 as part of their lustrum. Later that year, after the German occupiers prohibited education of Jewish students, all student rowing clubs (and all other student clubs) closed their gates. Only the executive board remained members to protect boats and property.

A mock Varsity took play in a Japanese interment camp. Representatives of the student rowing clubs created a game where dice decided the outcome. With cardboard they created a 5 meter track, boats, finish tower and they even painted the boats in the correct colours. Members and supporters of the student rowing clubs created the traditional outfit and practised the anthem of the club. Representatives of each pre-war NSRB club (Njord, Laga, Triton, Nereus, Aegir) played for the main event, while Argo, a student rowing club not yet member of the NSRB, only could participate in the skiff, double four and in the eight. Triton won the race after an exciting battle against Laga.

1946 - 1959[edit]

Nereus, Aegir and Argo lost their boathouses and most of the boats in the war. But everyone (including Argo for the first time) competed in the 1946 Varsity. Triton won, but most important was that the NSRB received the honorary title 'Koninklijke' (Royal). Since then it's the KNSRB (Royal Dutch Student Rowing Association).

After the war the importance of the Varsity grew: the NOS has broadcast the race on television since the 1950s.

1960 - present[edit]

Varsity 1960

In the 1960s the role of the parent societies, the corporations, started to change. This affected the rowing clubs heavily. Stand-alone rowing clubs were founded, without a corporation as a parent. These rowing clubs could not join the KNSRB, but, as their number grew, needed representation. Thus, on the initiative of the KNSRB, all student rowing clubs started the NSRF (Nederlandse Studenten Roeifederatie (nl) (Dutch Student Row Federation). KNSRB clubs became a member of both organisations.

After much debate between KNSRB clubs, it was decided in 1973 that all NSRF clubs should be able to participate in the Varsity. This led to major changes in the race. For the first time since 1914, qualifications were necessary.

The big culture difference between the new and the old clubs proved to be a difficult challenge for both worlds. New clubs did not like the distance and distinctive race rules. They also objected to the traditional fighting and brawling between KNSRB club members.

The KNSRB members showed their disappointment by wearing black belts during the first 'joined' Varsity. Since then the relationship normalised, although many KNSRB members misbehaved when a non-KNSRB club, Orca, won the varsity in 1980.

The Varsity moved north along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal in 1971. Since then the race has stayed in Houten except for a one year return to the Bosbaan.


  • The combination of alcohol and the traditional fighting caused some controversy. As earlier mentioned, drunken spectators infiltrated the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.
  • A rail bridge crosses the canal near the course; students would often pull the emergency brake to reach their destination of the race faster. This ceased when better transportation became available.
  • In 2004 an unconscious student of Okeanos fell into the water after the fighting escalated.[5]
  • In 2013 Skøll rower Tim Heijbrock was banned from the race for the second time, due to the fact that he started for Willem 3 earlier in the season (and raced there for the Abcoude-Amsterdam race). His club was familiar with the rule, but did not warn him. It has been published to the press that may have been was a board member of Nereus who warned the Varsity committee a week before the race.[6]


  • The oldest sport-related film material in the Netherlands is that of the Varsity of 28 May 1905, shot with the highly flammable 17,5 mm nitrate film.[7]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Caused by the dead-heat of 1960
  1. ^ Oude Vieren event. (nl) KNSRB. Retrieved 2014-11-18
  2. ^ a b c d e,0,0,1,0,0
  3. ^ a b,0,0,1,0,0
  4. ^ a b "de alternatieve bron voor sportnieuws". 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
  5. ^ "NLroei - Onderzoek politie na geweldadig incident Varsity". 2004-04-23. Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
  6. ^ "NLroei - Ook Heijbrock ontbreekt op Varsity". Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
  7. ^ "de alternatieve bron voor sportnieuws". Retrieved 2014-03-19. 

External links[edit]