U.S. Gondola National Competitions rowing into Providence

(WJAR)

The U.S. Gondola National Competitions are rowing into Providence this weekend.

The first gondola rides began in Providence in 1997, encouraged by then-mayor Buddy Cianci, to play off the increasingly popular WaterFire public art installation that's now known around the world.

Matthew "Marcello" Haynes started as a part-time gondolier in 1999, then bought “La Gondola” in 2007, and has since doubled its size and staff.

"I love showing off the city to somebody who's never been here before, but at the same time there's nothing like showing off Providence to someone you know who's lived here all their life and getting to see it from a completely different perspective,” he said.

Marcello came up with the idea for the U.S. Gondola Nationals in May 2012.

"We were having a fundraiser and just thought it would be really cool to add some gondola races,” he said. “Turned out to be the first time that gondola races were ever held in America. We invited everybody we could find in six weeks. The nationals was born."

Hundreds of competitors come from across the USA to participate in the Nationals in Orange County, California.

"The racing aspect appeals to me, but just the camaraderie of being around all these people who are into this weird niche thing, like, we mostly just get together and sing our songs and drink wine and row occasion all races,” Michael Angelo Ruffino, of California, said.

There are sprint races, distance races and slalom races. While the competition's test the gondolier's skills, it's being outdoors, in nature, in fraternity, that makes this event one to cherish for a lifetime.

"So, it's like meditative to come down here,” Adam "Ivano" Alves, of East Providence, said. “It's an art form. It's a way to make a living."

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