By Anita Oh

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — They lifted their boats and dropped their oars to the water. Thousands gathered in Philadelphia on a chilly Saturday morning for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, an annual event held since 1971.

The regatta is one of the largest in the country with more than 8,500 competitors from more than two dozen states.

“I think it’s exciting to have so many different crews from so many different places,” said Addie Hurwitz with the Penn State crew. “There’s like Florida crews here, a lot of Pennsylvania schools, I saw Virginia.”

Hurwitz joined Penn State’s crew team last year and says there’s a lot of training involved.

“We get up at 5:30, leave by 6 and spend time on the water before classes even start,” she said.

It’s a different kind of sport – and that’s what drew Chris Howe-Smith of Franklin & Marshall in.

“I love Head of the Schuylkill. It’s definitely the premier rowing event of the year in the fall.” he said. “Just the team camaraderie of it. It’s a sport where no one person can be the star. The team is the star.”

And that’s something Ryan Gottberg of Duke University is learning. This is his very first crew competition.

“I played soccer in high school and I wanted to try something new,” he said. “I felt like crew was a good fit. It’s really cool seeing other teams. They have really nice boats.”

Competitors weren’t even phased by several reports earlier in the week of a small crocodile in the water.

“Our president actually posted an article about it in our Facebook group, so, yeah, that’s kind of exciting. Who would expect a crocodile in the Schuylkill, really?

And croc or no croc – these rowers are battling to be the fastest – and become the Head of the Schuylkill.