UT alumnus aims to create community at Texas Rowing Center

Sara Neaves

On most sunny afternoons, hundreds of multi-colored stand-up paddle boards float across Lady Bird Lake as the Texas Rowing Center’s synchronized rowers zip past them.

Since UT alumnus Matt Knifton purchased TRC in 2002, it has provided water access, paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing and rowing for Austin’s community.

Knifton said his love of rowing inspired him to take over TRC. When he was a freshman at UT, he joined the club rowing team and spent his last two years as the team captain.

“I was a chemical engineer, but I really minored in running the rowing club,” Knifton said. “That was kind of my thing.”

After he graduated from UT, Knifton rowed with a national team before pursuing a law degree at Texas Tech. He used his background in law upon his return to Austin in 1996 to help save the rowing center, which was in danger of closing because of city contract renewal issues.

Once he became the sole owner of the business, Knifton changed the center’s official name from Texas Rowing to Texas Rowing Center. He said he worked to provide an environment for everyone to enjoy the outdoors.

“I called it Texas Rowing Center because ‘club’ sounded too exclusive to me, and a club has different connotations,” Knifton said. “I thought ‘center’ was more inclusive. The rowing center is for everybody. ‘Club’ didn’t really reflect what it is,” Knifton said.

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

UT alumna Abbey Wilkowski, who coaches middle and high school girls that are new to rowing, said she feels the center provides an uncommon work environment.

“Working in this sort of environment is the best,” Wilkowski said. “You are essentially being paid to workout, get a good tan, and meet a lot of cool people. You can't get that in any office setting.”

UT alumna Falesha Thrash, head coach of the center’s high school rowing program, said the center’s success is possible not only because of Knifton’s law background but also his love of rowing and care for the community.

“TRC wouldn’t exist in the way that it does without [Knifton’s] business sense and determination to expose more people to rowing,” Thrash said. “He sees that TRC pays it forward to the river and trail that our rowing community relies on.”

Currently, members of the TRC said they are excited about the prospect of building a new boathouse. The proposed floating boathouse will be 30 feet by 200 feet on the dock, which will allow rowers to avoid crossing the hike and bike trail each time they take out a boat.

“We’ve been through all the committees, through the staff development, and, now, we go before the parks board for final approval. I’m optimistic about that,” Knifton said.

Knifton said he looks forward to a fun and busy summer, which will include a fireworks display over Lady Bird Lake on July 4.

“It’s a happening place,” Knifton said. “It’s great to be a part of.”

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff