‘Quirky rowing websites’ is an occasional series at Rowperfect, published as quirky sites wander onto our screens. This one introduces Doug Rathburn of Oar Spotter. His love of rowing and drawing have perfectly coalesced in this website, where he keeps the rowing world up-to-date with team oar colours and designs
Doug, what gave you the idea to start your site?
I started the site one night when I was bored. I had moved back to the US from Bristol, UK in 2003 and was looking for rowing clubs in Chicago. I was always the guy who painted blades for my rowing clubs so always had an interest in the designs. A few web sites have come and gone over the years and when I was looking in 2003 all of them hadn’t been updated in years. And I always say that if you want something done right you do it yourself. So the night of boredom turned into trolling regatta photo web sites to find designs and draw them.
The first couple years I spent a long time searching for designs. It now seems to have some critical mass now that people send me designs.
The biggest step function improvement was incorporating the designs into regatta entries on Regatta Central. Steve Lopez has built by far the best regatta entry site I’ve ever used or seen (and I’ve lived/rowed in four countries now). They’re now getting ubiquitous in the US, Canada and soon Australia. When teams see their design missing they shoot me a note based on a link from his site.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction and what is the hardest part of keeping it going?
I derive the greatest satisfaction from helping regatta officials to spot crews on the water. It’s a hard job and helping those folks is great. The hardest part is just finding the time. I can usually keep up with individual requests, but large lists I just haven’t gotten to yet.
For example, I have all of the clubs in the Netherlands waiting to be drawn, but I’ve been sitting on it for months now. The other frustrating thing is the constant change that US junior crews do to their designs. One team has had 10 designs since I started the site.
US parents tend to think they have better ideas then their predecessors…
Who uses and visits the site?
I don’t have a good sense of who visits the site en masse. I get notes from referees and parents all the time thanking me for the site. I think since there are so many links to clubs I get a lot of search traffic from people just searching out a club. All in all the site gets about 100,000 unique visits per month, which just blows my mind.
In terms of the revenue links on the site, I just try to drive a few dollars to my undergraduate university rowing team – Spartan Alumni. The amount isn’t much and not worth the hassle for me (tax paperwork, etc.), but the team can buy a few spare parts a year with it.
The main thing I do now is provide images for regatta t-shirts and such, which I ask for a donation in return.
So thanks to Doug for his continued hard work – if you want a t-shirt image, please visit Oar Spotter and make a donation.
If you would like to support Doug’s work, get in touch and volunteer to help get all those Dutch rowing blade designs drawn and uploaded….
The miniature replica oars we sell at Rowperfect, references Doug’s website as the place to go to pick out your team oar design for the artworker, Rob McCarthy in New Zealand.