When Pacifica Christian High School students Spencer Ewanick and Grace Wathen decided to row this school year, they signed up to be part of Orange County history.
The private Newport Beach campus — which opened for its first school year in late August with about 50 freshmen and sophomores enrolled — announced in November that it was preparing a rowing team. It is the first among Orange County high schools, according to Pacifica's athletic director, Brandon Gonzalez.
Pacifica's two rowing pioneers, Spencer and Grace, have represented the school in three events so far in San Diego and Los Angeles counties.
Before the rowing program came together, Gonzalez had a different water sport in mind for a student team. He contacted Newport Sea Base in the fall to see how Pacifica could begin a sailing program. The youth aquatics center told him two Pacifica students, Spencer and Grace, were already participating at the sea base, but in rowing.
The Newport Sea Base rowing program — which operates off West Coast Highway two miles from the Pacifica campus — is now the high school's partner, providing the coaches, boat and equipment the students need for the season.
Pacifica's six-day-a-week practices at the sea base combine weight-lifting, training on indoor rowing machines and taking boats onto the water.
"[Rowing] is a very mental sport," said Grace, 14. "Every day you push yourself to the limit and you figure out what motivates you."
Spencer, 16, brought home Pacifica's first medal after finishing second in the 850-meter singles race at the Long Beach Rowing Assn.'s Christmas Regatta.
With the push and pull of his legs, core and arms, he rowed the 20-foot-long, torpedo-shaped boat over a half-mile in less than four minutes.
"Rowing is, at this moment in time, my favorite sport I have ever done because of the fact that you can never stop getting better," Spencer said. "You are only fulfilled when you have worked for six months straight and cross the finish line first."
Grace and Spencer have participated in other sports, she in fencing and he in tae kwon do, baseball and skiing.
"But to represent your school with other people is different," said Liz Ewanick, Spencer's mother. "You have this feeling that you're a part of the school."
Gonzalez said Pacifica hopes to have enough rowing team members to race as a full boat next school year.
He said the school has two eighth-graders recruited — Devon Saunders of Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach and Dimitri Kallins of St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano.
The next competition for Pacifica rowing is Saturday at Newport Sea Base, where 10 rowing programs and schools in Southern California will race in various events.
Alex Chan, email@example.com