People who jump into the water “nude but not naked”, drunk students throwing bunches of grass at each other and packed shuttle buses blaring tremendously loud music – such things are only allowed at the Varsity. Skadi was unable to cause an upset at the 134th edition of the illustrious rowing competition for students. The Rotterdam students came fourth in the Ladies’ Four and Men’s Four races, the two most prestigious races.

It is 3pm and the banks of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal near Houten are filling up. An estimated four thousand fans have taken up their positions on the waterside, singing. Although they have had quite a few beers, the Skadi fans are not overly optimistic. They think fourth or fifth place for the Men’s Four is probably as good as it is going to get. “But the Ladies’ Four might just win, you know!” the die-hard fans yell.

Better than Olympic gold medal

The Varsity is not just a very studenty affair, but a very prestigious one too. Some say that winning the rowing competition for students is better than winning an Olympic gold medal. Cox Kimberly Kamp, 28, who won the Men’s Four race with Skadi in 2015, understands the sentiment. “At this race you really represent your club, university and town. Unlike the Olympics, second place does not count here.” Kamp is wearing a white Skadi jacket, which may only be worn by victors and remains unwashed until the next victory. “I really hope I can pass it on to someone else soon.”

By now, the first scuffles and bunch-of-grass fights have been spotted. They form the prelude to the traditional game of brassen, which involves Skadi taking on Amsterdam-based Nereus on a boat especially hired for the purpose. The objective is to grab one’s opponent by the lapels and pull them to the ground, for the sake of honour. And there is a lot of honour at stake, because according to Skadi member and economics student Ivan Kalinichenka, 23, the battle between Nereus and Skadi is definitely comparable to an Ajax-Feyenoord match. “You just hate those bastards from Amsterdam, even though they may be pretty cool guys.” Neither party is really proclaimed the winner.

Varsity 2017 april 1
Het ‘gerollebol’ Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Buckling knees

By now the Ladies’ Four have completed their race, which is won by Nereus. The fans are highly confused. One is absolutely certain that the ladies’ team has not yet crossed the finish line. Others, always eager to get more beer, are struggling with frequently malfunctioning coin dispensers. Elsewhere, a student has had a breakdown. Paramedics are rushing his way.

The Skadi ladies come fourth, which is a huge disappointment to them. “We wanted to get closer to victory,” medicine student Jara Verweij, 21, says after the race. “During our training camps we logged some really fast times.” Pressure played a part not to be underestimated. “My knees buckled when we passed all those spectators while rowing to our spot before the race,” says Verweij. Her teammate Crista Algie, 24, had the added pressure of dealing with the legacy of her father, who won the Varsity with Leiden’s Njord club in the 1980s. “I don’t think I’ll be able to face him again any time soon,” she says jokingly.

Varsity april 3 Skadi
De winnaars van Nereus Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

“Nobody supported Nereus”

Next up: the grand final that is the Men’s Four race. To prepare for the race, a few students pee in the water from the bank of the canal. Nereus and Utrecht’s Triton team get off to a great start, with Skadi lagging behind a little. When the boats get closer to the finish line, the Skadi fans are climbing onto each other’s shoulders. “Hollee Skadi!” they shout. “Skadi is really getting back into the race now!” yells a fan as the Rotterdam team loses more ground. The enthusiastic cheering morphs into booing when Nereus wins the race by the slightest of margins. “This is really sad,” Kalinichenka opines. “Nobody here supported Nereus, except they themselves.”

What remains are the last few yelling students, lots of cigarette butts and empty beer cups. And, of course, the white Skadi jackets, which will remain dirty for at least another year.