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The Arkote Arraun team from Plentzia in the 2007 Kontxako Bandera race

Estropadak is the Basque term for a kind of rowing regatta held all along the coast of the Basque Country between July and October. The word estropadak is the plural form of estropada which simply means "boat race". In Spanish this sport is called traineras and in French trainières, both after the boats used.


Boats and rules

Celebrating the Kontxako Bandera

Today they are manned by a crew of 13 oarsmen sitting in pairs of two (except for the thirteenth, who sits closes to the cox and alone) and a cox facing them in the stern. As is common in other such events, the cox is responsible for steering the boat and keeping up the morale of the team. Each boat flies a particular flag and wears a team strip and often the boat is painted in the team's colours as well.

The boats themselves are 12m long, 1.72m wide (at midship) and weigh between 210-230kg but may not weigh less than 200kg (excluding oars and equipment). Today modern materials are used to build the traineru - amongst other things they are fitted with GPS systems - creating better boats but also pushing up the prices for them. In the 1970's a traineru cost around 45,000 pesetas, today prices start at around 10,000.

A race normally covers a distance of 5.5km with either a single trip to a buoy and back two return trips. Each boat has its own lane and may not cross into another boat's lane and the oars (and boats) of different boats may not touch. A race is normally restarted if something irregular happens within the first 20 seconds of a race. The winning team is awarded a bandera (flag) of the town. The winning team traditionally holds all oars vertically into the air, the so called arraunak gora or "oars up".

Women and estropadak

Gipuzkoas female estropadak team racing in Zarautz

Although most rowing teams were male, evidence from the historical bertsos tells us that female rowers existed, referred to as batelerak. The name derives from batel, a name for a smaller type of boat with 4 rowers and a cox. Evidence can also be seen in the traditional batelera dantza (batelera dance) which is performed by women with oars.

More recently, female teams have also begun to take plains in the estropadak proper.


Estropadak in Portugalete

The origins of the various kinds of estropada lie in fishing and whaling, both highly important sources of income in earlier periods. Traditionally, the first boat back at the quay got the best price for their fish. As the boat and all equipment was usually owned by the skipper and the crew hired by oral contract, the skipper would first deduct the boat and net share (25%) from the earnings, then deduct any further expenses for bait and provisions. Only then would the remained be shared in equal parts so it was in everybody's interest to get back as fast as possible to get the best price possible.

Similarly, when whaling was at its height in along the Bay of Biscay teams would race to be the first to reach a sighted whale.

The boats used in the estropadak were originally working fishing boats, the frame made from oak and the hull from pine.. There were three main categories:

  • the kalera, a large type of boat used for catching hake
  • the traineru which has and elevated prow and rounded stern, ideally suited for navigating the choppy waters off the coast at speed needed to catch anchovy and sardines
  • various smaller boats used close to the coast for a variety of fish such as the batel (trainerillas in Spanish), with 4 rowers and a cox. In botakar-estropada races the boats have a crew of 6 rowers and one cox, all sitting in a row.
The winners of a race in the Kontxako Bandera at the quay

In 1916 a man from Mutriku called Bizente Ormazabal built a new, sleek type of boat for a group from Getaria called Golondrina (swallow). At the same time motors were introduced to the fishing industry so the commercial use of rowing boats quickly disappeared and more and more were used for the estropadak. Over time the design changed, building more for speed than fishing, reducing the weight and the width.

The first documented estropada which was held as a sporting event was in 1871 between the people of Hondarribia and Pasaia, involving a bet about who could reach Donostia first setting our from Hondarribia. The Pasaia team won the 13 mile race and estropadak have been held as sporting event ever since. Originally the teams would race from one particular seaside town to another but today most races are held locally.

As rowing turned from a profession into a sport, fewer and fewer fishermen competed and more and more teams were put together from non-seafaring backgrounds as they could train more regularly than fishermen.

The most famous of all estropadak today is the Kontxako Estropadak or Kontxako Bandera, Kontxa being the name of the main bay of Donostia. It was first organised by the city's council in 1890 and is said to have drawn a crowd of some 12,000 spectators.

Famous teams

Some famous modern teams include:

  • Aita Mari Arrain Taldea from Zumaia, officially founded in 1975
  • Arkote Arraun Taldea from Plentzia, officially founded in 1957
  • Deustu Arraun Taldea from Deustu, officially founded in 1981
  • Getariako Arraun Elkartea from Getaria, officially founded in 1976
  • Hobarribia Arraun Elkartea from Hondarribia, going back to 1862
  • Itsasoko Ama from Santurtzi, officially founded in 1967
  • Isuntza Arraun Elkartea from Lekeitio, officially founded in 1977
  • Kaiku Arraunaren Kirol Elkartea from Sestao, officially founded in 1923 with a traineru called Bizkaitarra
  • Orio Arraun Elkartea from Orio, going back to 1879 and to date is the team which has won the Kontxako Bandera the most times
  • Sanpedrotarra Arraun Elkartea from Pasaia, going back to 1880
  • Urdaibai Arraun from the Urdaibai area, officially founded in 1992 by clubs from Bermeo, Elantxobe and Mundaka to promote the sport in the area
  • Zarauzko Arraun Elkartea from Zarautz, officially founded in 1983

The founding dates can be somewhat misleading as many clubs existed long before they were formally founded as clubs.


  • Department of Culture (in Basque and Spanish)
  • Etxegoien, J. Orhipean, Xamar 1996
  • Kurlansky, M. The Basque History of the World, Vintage 2000

See also

Basque rural sports

External links



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