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PSS Summer '13

Easy Oars

By Chris Swingle

Kevin Stevenson ’03 fell in love with rowing at HWS and believes he owes both his family and his career to the sport. He met his wife, Julie Deprez Stevenson ’04, when they both rowed for the Colleges. Since 2010, he’s been a mechanical engineer at Concept2 in Morrisville, Vermont, the largest designer and manufacturer of custom rowing oars and indoor rowing machines.

Stevenson treasures memories of magical times on the Cayuga- Seneca Canal, among eight men rowing in perfect unison, “the epitome of teamwork and connectedness,” he says. “You take a stroke, and you feel like the boat will never stop. It’s this very controlled explosion.”

Now he tries to provide exhilaration for others by designing and testing carbon fiber oars—a sculling pair starts at $490—and building and maintaining the equipment to manufacture them. Stevenson uses a 3D printer almost daily to create models of new grips, oar blades or other components.

He travels to large regattas such as the Head of the Charles in Boston to provide free repairs for Concept2 oars. “It’s an engineer’s dream to have such variety in my day-to-day work,” says Stevenson, who received dual bachelor’s degrees in physics and engineering in three years at Hobart and two years at Dartmouth College.

Concept2’s customers include rowing clubs, schools and about two-thirds of the rowing competitors at the 2012 Olympics in London. For Quebec’s ice canoe races on an iceberg-choked St. Lawrence River, the company makes extra stiff, durable oars—to which the competitors add metal spikes. Last year, a village in American Samoa bought oars with a custom blade shape and shaft design for its new, 49-person long boat for a Flag Day Fautasi race in Pago Pago Harbor.

“We’ll do just about anything which makes the job so much fun,” says Stevenson.