Eton College is one of a select number of schools that still hosts an annual ‘bumping’ race. This tradition, which has been maintained for over a hundred years, will once again return to the Thames after an enforced hiatus due to Coronavirus.

Each year,  twenty five boarding houses can enter a coxed four, with the crew made up of boys from Years 10 and 11. This brings together both boys who have rowed for more than two years and those who have never rowed before.

The starting positions for each boat are based on the position that each boat finished in the previous year’s race, with the previous year’s winner entitled to the position at ‘Head of the River’. Although the Houses are split into two divisions, racing at separate times due to limited river space, the aim of the sport is quite literal, to ‘bump’ the boat in front! You can see the positions in the picture below, after the first evening of the competition. Bumping the boat in front enables you to start in a higher position the following day and overtaking the ‘bumped’ boat on the leader board. ‘Bumps’ takes place over four evenings in May, with the boat which performs the most ‘bumps’ winning the bumping cup. 

Normally bumps attracts hundreds of spectators running and screaming support as the boats race from Queen Elizabeth Bridge to the Brocas. This year, unfortunately, there will be no crowds due to the pandemic, but rowers and houses are thrilled to be taking part in the first bumps race since 2019.

Eton bumps has a rich tradition and being ‘Head of the River’ at the end of the week is a highly coveted position, with eager crews training daily in the preceding weeks. Nonetheless, there are usually few more comical incidents each year, with one boat (JMOB) catching a double ejector crab in 2019, which led to half of the rowing crew falling out of the boat and the JMOB crew being bumped multiple times!

Look out for the second article in our bumps series, which will announce the ‘Head of the River’.