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Seventh Annual U.S. Gondola Nationals Bring Gondoliers Together In Providence

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Dozens of gondoliers from around the country convened in Rhode Island for a weekend of racing on the Providence River. Ari Snider from the Public's Radio was on the docks to catch the action.

All eyes were on gondoliers Adam Alves and Harrison Richards as they barreled down the river in a two person, two and a half mile race on a crisp November morning. Fans cheered as the two, who row standing up, pushed across the finish line.

Richards was happy with how the race went. He said it was probably the best they'd ever rowed.

"We had a really good run. We were very in sync," Richards said.

Gondolas are heavy, about as along as a limousine, and even when they’re going at top speed you’d be able to keep up by jogging slowly along the shore.

"We had a really good run. We were very in sync."

 Though they’re sleek, the boats were not built for speed, and it takes serious muscle to make them race, said fellow rower Adam Alves.

"We fought for that really hard. I fought for that really really hard," Alves said after the competition. "That was like everything I had."

Both Richards and Alves row professionally for La Gondola Providence, where they go by the Italian nicknames Mariano and Ivano. Throughout the year the company offers peaceful, gondola cruises complete with Italian singing. If you’ve ever been to Providence Water Fire you’ve probably seen them.

 The idea for a national racing event came in 2012 from Matthew Haynes, a.k.a. Marcello, the owner of La Gondola Providence.

"The first Nationals was just a one-day event, and we only had three races. We had a sprint, we had a slalom, and we had a relay race," Haynes said.

 The relay race didn’t work out so well, according to Haynes.

"We just divided all the gondoliers who were here into two boats and they had to switch gondoliers under the bridges, which ended up being a complete disaster."

The Gondola Games have evolved since then into a two-day event, drawing gondoliers from around the country, including states as far away as Minnesota and California.

"Just as important is this social aspect you know where guys who live three thousand miles away get to hang out with each other for the weekend."

The competition is fierce, but it’s about more than just winning. Haynes says there’s a community in the niche world of gondoliers.

"Just as important is this social aspect you know where guys who live 3,000 miles away get to hang out with each other for the weekend and just kinda share – even if we have nothing else in common, there’s this." Haynes said, adding, "There aren’t very many of us."

For some competitors, being a gondolier is more than just a part-time job. Roselyn Young, a.k.a. Giuliana, is coming up on three seasons as part of La Gondola’s crew. 

"So I row trips, I sing on the trips, I actually fix up the boats during the winter, and I also work in the office. So I’m kind of like all three aspects, which is kind of unique," Young said.

Young believes that becoming a gondolier helped boost her self-confidence.

"I am a completely different person from two years ago, and I’m really happy about it. I used to be that shy girl in high school, artistic, musical, but didn’t really talk to anyone. But now I’m a lot more confident in myself, in what I can do physically and, like, mentally as well," Young said.

"Now I’m a lot more confident in myself, in what I can do physically and like mentally as well."

Back on the docks, Alves and Richards, the two-person team from Providence, checked their results The race was a nail-biter, but Alves and Richards came up just short of first place.

Missing gold by such a small margin definitely stings, but Alves wasn't going to let that get him down.

"We still got a silver, we got a silver in this event. That’s awesome. We trained really hard for this, you know we were out here probably at least three times a week," Alves said. "Still 26 minutes is a good time for this."

And of course, there’s always next year.




A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California
A lone gondolier on the Providence River.
A lone gondolier on the Providence River.
Matthew “Marcello” Haynes, owner of La Gondola Providence
Matthew “Marcello” Haynes, owner of La Gondola Providence
A four-person gondola team from California
A four-person gondola team from California