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On Tap with George Bradbury and Fred Vystavel

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Sophomore rowers on Princeton’s heavyweight crew, George Bradbury and Fred Vystavel raced and attended school across the pond before coming to New Jersey. The ‘Prince’ had the opportunity to sit down with this dynamic duo of Englishmen to discuss trans-Atlantic differences along with their respective favorite seasonings.

Daily Princetonian: Where are you from and what’s it like there?

Fred Vystavel: I always have different answers for this.

George Bradbury: He’s the most multi-national person I know.

FV: Yeah, went to school in England – rival school of George’s but never raced each other. Born in Belgium, half-Danish, half-Swedish. Live in England about a 15-minute bike ride from George in London.

GB: I’m from London, England – went to school in central London and lived in London all my life. Very much a city boy I guess.

DP: What’s the best part about being from your respective hometowns?

GB: I like London as a city because New York kind of scares me just because everything is so big and the scale seems so much larger. And obviously London is a huge city, but it just somehow seems a lot more livable for me. Familiar but also just more livable compared to New York.

Q: You guys have been around this country a fair bit. What American practice or quirk appears the most bizarre to you?

GB: There is so much I could sit here all night and say. One thing in relation to sports is the whole hands-in and “Tigers on three” thing. I mean I like it and it kind of gets me going. But when we’re at home it’s like a thing you joke about. Like “Friday Night Lights” you know: “Clear eyes full hearts can’t lose.” That’s what it always makes me think of. If you saw people in England do that, you’d be like, “Wow, Jesus!”

FV: On a very unrelated note, I feel like Americans generally use their cutlery very differently. Also a lot of peanut butter being consumed in very different ways.

GB: Also yoga pants. There’s a big prevalence of yoga pants. At least in my experience, compared to home. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, just impartially saying that.

DP: If you could take up a sport at the varsity level other than crew, what would it be?

FV: Probably soccer I think. It’s pretty chill. I kind of miss playing it as well. And I enjoy the concept of having a real offseason as opposed to rowing where there’s no real distinction between on and off-season. And they’re a good bunch of guys.

GB: I think it would be funny to be on the lacrosse team – I’m a big fan. I think it’d be quite fun just to see how that would work out. Or the football team.

DP: Do your guys have any embarrassing crew related memories?

GB: We call it catching a crab for some reason. It’s when the oar blade flips and catches in the water. So the handle comes back at you at the speed of the boat. So that can hurt a lot. But we’re good so we don’t catch them.

FV: At school I caught a boat-ejector crab. That is, I caught a crab that ejected me from the boat. These were really old boats so I didn’t have the shoes on the boat to strap me in.

GB: That’s awesome. That’s like the ultimate thing in rowing. If you catch an ejector crab, it means that your whole body gets ripped out of the shoes that are on the boat and you’re thrown out. Apparently Carnegie Lake is also not the cleanest.

FV: [Sophomore] Mike Lindburg and I capsized. It was a brutal experience. It was super cold.

GB: Him and Mike Lindburg capsized when they were rowing a pair. There used to be this senior Eric [Schwarzenbach] last year. We would play this ball game before practice with like a soccer ball, keeping it up in the air. Obviously we’re terrible at it since everyone is so uncoordinated. So anytime the ball would go in the water, Eric would just go flying off the dock and jump into Lake Carnegie to get it. He wouldn’t even shower – he’d just do a full two hour practice covered in the rank Carnegie water.

DP: On the other end of the spectrum, what have been the proudest moments of your careers so far?

FV: I mean, it was tainted with loss, but it was when my boat, which was the 2V boat last year, came fourth at the IRAs [International Rowing Association]. We were in second or third the whole race and then got pipped at the line by Cal. But what was really cool was that we were part of such a competitive field. Washington won clearly but then it was Brown, who won by .5 seconds over Cal who won .2 over us who were .5 over BU. At that moment I realized I was happy to have come over to America to experience that kind of competitive rowing. Despite losing, it was — maybe not proudest — but it was a very cool moment.

GB: Mine was before Princeton: my last year of high school in the national championships in the single scull. So it’s just me rowing alone. I came second. Again it’s weird because I didn’t win, but at the same time I lost to someone who was really good and I beat several people who everyone said that I couldn’t beat. And one of the guys I beat was someone who had always beaten me. So finally, at the very end of school, for four years I’d been racing that guy and came out on top.

DP: Could you talk about rowing in smaller boats as opposed to a larger team effort?

GB: One of the biggest things for me is the noise. Like the noise of an eight race, especially the start since all the coxes have their speakers down the boats and are shouting. Then just the noise that the oars make is extreme. Six eights going off side by side for the start of a race is really noisy, whereas for singles, it’s completely silent. It’s weird because the loudest thing you can hear is your own breathing. But an eight is just noise and chaos.

FV: The smallest boat I’ve raced properly in is a four. It’s a little bit louder, not as loud as an eight though. When you’re rowing in an eight, you’re there with seven other guys so you’re very much dependent on all eight rowing together. If you’re in a four, you feel like you’re really much more a part of the boat, so you really have to do well for the other guys.

GB: I like the smaller boats – there’s much more zen somehow.

DP: Who’s the quirkiest kid on your team?

GB: PK. [Sophomore] Patrick Konttinen. Well, actually there are so many people on our team. I don’t know what the stereotype on campus of the rowing team is, but there are some seriously quirky guys on our team.

FV: It’s kind of like “fiend.” It’s not really quirky.

GB: Well PK is definitely quirky. I dunno, like everything he does is so funny. I’ve seen him do …

FV: Things that we can’t describe in this interview.

GB: I’ve seen him pee into a plastic bottle in the dining hall. Inexplicably.

FV: He also gets up to some weird things in the showers.

GB: But just in general, I’ve never seen him get angry at anything. Everything is funny and everything is fair game.

FV: You could destroy his room, punch him in the face, do literally anything to him.

GB: With him there’s no sense of boundaries. He has no boundaries. And he doesn’t expect anyone else to have boundaries.

FV: There was one time this year when someone one-upped PK and he was stunned …

GB: But no, definitely PK.

FV: All around.

GB: If you’re on campus looking for a laugh, go to Patrick Kontinnen. He’ll do some weird stuff … Oh, one other thing that he does! When he’s riding his bike up to the dining hall from practice, instead of stopping and parking it, he’ll sort of get off while it’s still moving and let it keep going and crash into the bushes next to Wu. Then without looking to either side he’ll just walk into the dining hall and all the people outside are just looking at him dumbfounded.

DP: Who’s the biggest weight room warrior?

GB: Either Jason Kopelman, who’s a senior now, or Tim Masters, who’s a junior. Jason is just a psycho and a huge guy. But Tim is funny about it. When we’re in season the coach doesn’t like us to lift weights so, while in-season I’ll have to stand at the fountain. From there I can get a good look at who’s coming into the weight room so I can tell him if the coach is coming so Tim can stop lifting.

FV: I mean there’s a good group of guys who tend to, you know, do some dips. Tim’s the one who does it in the most sensible way.

DP: Give us some pre-race superstitions either you or your teammates have.

GB: I had a lucky uni that I used to wear at school, but then it got so gross that I couldn’t even wear it anymore. The colors weren’t recognizable. But obviously here we get new unis every year so we can’t really have a lucky one. For me it’s just like checking everything. I’m always obsessing with checking that all the bolts are tight, that the oar is the right length. I think everyone likes to hide the fact that they’re doing superstitious stuff — some guys definitely have like lucky hats or socks. Do you know John Cena the wrestler? Tommy Linderman, who’s a senior, is a huge John Cena fan. So every race that I’ve been at Princeton he’s worn a John Cena headband and wristband.

DP: If you had to be salt, pepper or oregano, which would you be and why?

FV: Pepper. As much as I like salt on eggs, I think pepper is great on steaks. It packs a punch.

GB: Fred would be like the fancy, potent pepper. I’d be salt, just because everyone loves a bit of salt.

DP: What are your aspirations for your Princeton rowing career?

GB: More than anything, I would like to win a championship for Princeton. Either the Eastern Sprints or the national championships. Either one, they’re both like national championships. To win something for Princeton would be pretty special, I’d take that over everything. For years it’s been close but no cigar.

FV: I’m the same. Post-Princeton, I think the Boat Race is something I’d quite like to do for Oxford.

GB: It means a lot for all of us on the crew team, since for years it’s been close but no cigar despite the great history of the program. And last year we went up to the eastern sprints with 1V and 2V both unbeaten thinking that we were gonna win. But second varsity came second and we came fourth. So for me that was pretty gutting – to not be on the podium after an undefeated dual racing season.

DP: Which one of you is the better person?

GB: This is actually funny, because we were having this conversation the other day. Fred is like the nicest person. Actually the nicest person. So taking a piss out of him for being so nice, with [teammate] Ryan Barker, I’d point out things that Fred does. So he’d spill a bit of food in the dining hall and I’d immediately be like, “Oh Fred, what an asshole.”

FV: In terms of on-campus presence, George is friends with everyone – especially Pi Phi. He’s the most sociable guy. He’s going to be our social chair next year.

GB: An unrecognized position, but a very important one.

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