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The Regatta: from boat race to public festival – and back

Have you ever sat in the University Park and seen boats crewed by student social associations plough through the university lake during the legendary Regatta? Perhaps you yourself have crewed a rubber boat on the lake or perhaps you were there at the very start, when only medical and dentistry students raced each other? Take a trip back in time and see the history of the Regatta in videos and pictures.

Back in 1991 just few enthusiastic amateur ‘sailors’ took part in the Regatta, but over the next more than 30 years it has grown into one of the largest student-run events in Scandinavia. It has become an iconic AU event, attracting both current and future students and making alumni dreamily nostalgic as they tell their anecdotes about their own Regatta experiences.

Under normal circumstances, the event now attracts up to 30,000 spectators. But back when it all began, no one dreamed that the Regatta would grow so big. The seeds of an idea for the Regatta were sown late one night after a party for medical and dentistry students in the late 1980s. Their respective student social associations, Umbilicus and Klubrådet, had been holding joint parties since the School of Dentistry and the Faculty of Medicine merged into the new Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. Alumnus and former medical student Jens Winther Jensen said to the university's now defunct newspaperCampus:

"While we were cleaning up after the party, someone suggested holding a regatta on the university lake, taking inspiration from the annual eight-oar boat race on the Thames between Oxford and Cambridge universities. From there, the idea snowballed," says Jens Winther Jensen, who was a member of the medical students’ team in the second duel against the dentists in 1992.

Watch the video with alumnus Jens Winther Jensen, who talks about how the Regatta started (in danish):

Imaginative opening processions

Later, more teams joined in and the Regatta grew. At the end of the 1990s, the participating teams began to organise festive openings, and the opening procession of teams has included elephants, helicopters, stuntmen with fire, strippers, divers and dromedaries. The Regatta was held for the thirtieth time in 2020. However, Covid-19 came very close to capsizing the Regatta and preventing it from taking place at all. Of course, it was not possible to gather 30,000 students in the University Park, so instead the participating oarsmen met on 23 July 2020 for a secret mini-regatta in the University Park, observing all the Covid restrictions in place at that time. While the focus of student social associations and the public has grown on the surrounding show, the sporting side of the event has also become more important. The is more focus on preventing cheating, and most of the teams take the race very seriously, starting their training several months before the battle on the lake. Over time, many Danish celebrities have acted as the master of ceremonies at the event, including Casper Christensen, Anders Lund Madsen, Karen Thisted and Esben Bjerre and Peter Falktoft. Covid-19: The Regatta goes back to basics This meant that the 2020 Regatta very much resembled the early days back in the early 1990s: No spectators, no master of ceremonies and no entertainers. Just a few members of student social associations rowing over a lake, drinking a beer, spinning around ten times and then rowing back over the lake. Umbilicus won.

Watch the video from the unusual 2020 Regatta

This year, the organisers are planning a corona-friendly event on 25 June in the University Park – see more on the Regatta's Facebook page, which is regularly updated.