For rowing club leader, sport more than competition

Matt Kirchhoff enjoys sport for racing and adventure

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007

Rowing shells flew across the surface of the Gastineau Channel this weekend.

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It was all part of the Gastineau Challenge regatta, the main event of the Juneau Rowing Club. Led by President Matt Kirchhoff, the club has helped Juneau athletes skim across water since 2002.

"We have a shared, common interest in rowing," Kirchhoff said. "Some want a workout. Some want wilderness rowing or wilderness touring."

Women's race:

1. Heather Haugland - 7:45

2. Angela Thrower/Katya Ludwig - 8:05

3. Ann Ferlauto - 8:09

4. Norma Jean Sands - 8:55

5. Kristen Romanoff - 10:04

6. Toy Campbell - 11:32

Men's race:

1. Matt Kirchhoff - 7:02

2. Bruce Denton - 7:03

3. Adrian Slater - 7:05

4. Ron Flint - 7:06

5. Brad Fluetsch - 7:40

6. Carl Ferlauto - 7:49

7. Bart Watson - 8:00

Source: Juneau Rowing Club

Many of the approximately 50 members of the club gathered at the Juneau Yacht Club on Saturday and set out for a 1,400-meter race in the channel. They reached speeds of about four meters per second.

"Everyone starts at the same straight line, and they move parallel down the course," Kirchhoff said. "The first one that crosses the line, wins."

The sport has captivated Kirchhoff since his college days in Syracuse, N.Y. The 54-year-old started rowing while pursuing a bachelor's degree in environmental science and forestry.

Kirchhoff came to Alaska after graduating in the 1970s, splitting his year between field work in the Yukon Delta and graduate studies at the University of Maine.

After a stint in Port Alexander, a small fishing community at the southern tip of Baranof Island, he moved to Juneau in 1978. He landed a job with the Department of Fish and Game as a technician. Now he's a wildlife biologist, studying marbled murrelets.

The married father of two adult children, Kirchhoff has included his family in his hobby - his daughter rowed at Syracuse under the coaching of the daughter of the man who coached Kirchhoff years earlier.

Not all Kirchhoff's rowing has been competitive. When his son was 13, the two of them built a two-man row boat and spent 27 days on the west coast of Chichagof Island. They crossed 300 miles, living on food packed into baggies and whatever fish they caught.

"We had some great weather, and we had some scary weather," he said.

They started their trip with a ferry ride to Pelican, and they ended it in Hoonah.

"It was a tremendous experience," he said.

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or

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