Vidar: a history of the student rowing association

The Tilburg rowing association Vidar is relatively young but has built an impressive history in a short time. While the many social rowers contribute the association’s growth, the competitive rowers go for the prizes.

Christening of the Vidar boats in November 1963. Image: Rinus Boenders

Rowing is truly a student sport. It started at the renowned English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which first competed against each other on the Thames in London in 1829. This race, held annually since 1856, is known as ‘the Boat Race’ and is rowed with eight men, excluding coxswain, per boat. Since 1927, there has also been a women’s version and both races have been held on the same day and over the same distance (about 7 km) since 2015.

Sunday, March 26, it happened again. Watched by hundreds of thousands of people and broadcast on the BBC, the audience saw both the Cambridge men’s and women’s eights row to victory. With this, Cambridge has so far won the competition 84 times and Oxford 80 times. Once the competition ended in a draw, and that was in 1877. According to the Oxford rowing team because the referee was sleeping under a bush during the finish!


In the summer of 1878, the first official student rowing race was held in the Netherlands on the Galgewater in Leiden. Not with an eight-person boat, but with a four-person boat. The Leiden rowing club Njord then challenged the Delft student rowing association Laga but had to concede with the best time of 14 minutes and 42 seconds.

This main event, or the ‘race der Oude Vieren’ (Old Fours), grew in the following years to become the most famous and prestigious rowing competition among Dutch students. The rowing associations had emerged from the university student associations, as was common at the time. In 1880, the Utrecht Student Rowing Association Triton of the Utrecht Student Corps was added.

Since 1883, Njord, Laga, and Triton jointly formed the Dutch Student Rowing Association, which annually organized the Varsity. The Amsterdam-based Nereus joined in 1891, followed in 1912 by the G.S.R. Aegir from Groningen. After the Second World War, the Argo from Wageningen (1946) and in 1962 Skadi from Rotterdam followed.


The Tilburg rowing association Vidar had existed for only one year at the time and, like the other student rowing associations, had emerged from a traditional student association: St. Olof. Both the name Olof and Vidar were of Norse origin, with Vidar or Widar being known in Nordic mythology as the silent and withdrawn forest god, seeking revenge.

Since 1960, attempts had been made by the Tilburg students to set up a rowing association, but due to lack of funds they were not successful at that time. In 1962 they finally succeeded, partly with subsidies from the curatorium of their own university as well as from St. Olof. The charters stated that only students enrolled at the Katholieke Economische Hogeschool in Tilburg could become members of Vidar. They counted on fifty members in the opening year, which according to their own projections could grow to at least 200 members.

In November 1963, on the Wilhelminakanaal near Koningshoeven, Vidar’s boathouse was officially opened, and the nine new boats were christened by Rector Magnificus Cees Scheffer, the newly appointed official secretary of the curatorium, Han Loevendie, as well as the Tilburg Alderman of Education (see the photo at the beginning of this article, ed.).


Also on that day, a race was to be rowed on the Wilhelminakanaal over a distance of 500 meters and between the ‘four’ of Vidar and the ‘four’ of the Eindhoven student rowing association Tachos. ‘Which was convincingly won by us,’ the vice-president of Vidar enthusiastically added in the annual report.

It was not Vidar’s first race, as the club had also competed in the Argo sprint races in June and the three-day Amsterdam rowing event, which featured the royal Hollandia Cup. In July, they had competed against Rotterdam’s Skadi, on the occasion of their anniversary.

It was a setback that no official races could be rowed on their ‘own’ Wilhelminakanaal for the time being because the width of the canal did not allow it. They had to wait for the water sports course near the Beekse Bergen recreation park before national student races could be rowed in Tilburg as well. Since the founding in 1971 of the Nationaal Overleg Orgaan Competitieroeien, Vidar has organized rowing competitions here every year. With this event, the season of student rowing competitions in the Netherlands begins.

Nevertheless, the Tilburg association performed commendably in those early years. In 1964, for example, in the 32nd race for the championship of the Amstel River, known among rowers as the Head of the River, they took 14th place out of 41 rowing teams (second division). Their ‘eight’ had covered the distance in a time of 27 minutes, ‘only’ 21 seconds slower than the winner. In the same year, Vidar had even won first prize at the rowing competitions of the Katholieke interacademiale in Delft and, according to the commentator, had ‘just mopped the course’ with Proteus (Delft) and Phocas (Nijmegen).

Thirty rowing teams

Those who competed nationally for their rowing association were the so-called competitive rowers. They trained daily and regularly had to forgo alcohol. This was in contrast to the ‘social rowers’. This paid off because in 1967, Vidar and their ‘eight’ achieved eighth place (26 min. 52 sec.) at the Amsterdam Head of the River.

At the last race in 2022, Vidar came in ninth place with a time of 25 minutes and 51 seconds. In the same year, Tilburg former student Joeri Bruschinski was honored by the university for advancing through Vidar to become a top national rower. Various national and international prizes were awarded to him, including podium finishes at the World Championships.

Today, the Tilburg student rowing association Vidar is a large rowing association and social club for students. It has eighteen disputes, thirty rowing teams, fifty committees, and no fewer than 751 members. Those who are more interested in the history of this association can visit the Tilburg City Archives and the Academic Heritage unit.

Or you can come in the fall and take a look at the display cases in CUBE, where the history of various Tilburg student associations is presented in an attractive way.

Joep van Gennip is University Heritage program manager at Tilburg University.

Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel

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