I first got into umpiring when I was coaching St Hilda’s Collegiate and North End Rowing Club. More umpires were needed to run the local regattas on Otago Harbour and Lake Waihola, and I volunteered.
I really enjoyed seeing the races up close on the water, but the hardest part of the job was remembering not to coach or be tempted to give the crews instructions.
Working towards being a Level 2 race official really helped my coaching as I gained a more thorough understanding of the rules, which I could then pass on to my rowers and coxswains. It was easy to fit umpiring at Lake Ruataniwha around my coaching, and I did a shift or two at most major regattas. The organisers were very understanding of the need to balance my coaching requirements with volunteering as a race official.
Since passing my Level 2 race official exams, I’ve attended most regattas at Ruataniwha. I’ve also travelled up north to do some national championships and have gained a lot of experience in all areas including the start, finish tower, control commission and on-the-water umpiring.
I took a break from coaching during the pandemic to concentrate more on my business, and this has allowed me to be a race official for entire regattas. This year I applied to Rowing NZ to become a Level 3 race official and was successful in that. I have taken on roles as chief starter at Ruataniwha as well as chief umpire for the Otago Championships and the South Island Masters Regatta. Level 3 umpires, especially when in ‘chief’ positions, take on more responsibility and must make decisions regarding fairness and safety.
Communicating with other race officials and recruiting new people is an important part of being a Level 3 race official. It is vital to get new people coming through, and I’ve been out on the water at regattas with some great new trainee umpires this season.
Our sport is also heavily reliant on the volunteers who come back weekend after weekend. It takes 60–70 officials and volunteers to run a regatta, and it is important that things are smooth and enjoyable behind the scenes.
The most important thing I’ve learned is to stay calm and consider all information at hand. It’s hard to make everyone happy, especially with weather delays. Large and small clubs have different needs, and when a schedule is changed or compressed the single gender schools may have clashes that are different to those experienced by mixed gender schools. Thinking ahead about possible scenarios can mean smoother decision-making when the time comes.
I enjoy the roles where I interact with athletes, such as at the start, coxswain weigh-in and control commission. Most of the rowers and coxswains are very friendly towards officials and volunteers, which makes the jobs enjoyable.
The main advice I would give rowers is: learn to check your boat’s safety features (bow ball secure, shoes tied down correctly etc). Having to send a boat back to the park to get fixed is not fun for officials, and creates stress for rowers. Be aware of the rules and always check your boat yourself, rather than expecting your coach to do it for you.
I have been very fortunate to receive mentoring and encouragement towards becoming a race official from North End Rowing Club, Otago Rowing Association and South Island Rowing. I have also had support from Sport Otago through the Skeggs Foundation and Otago Community Trust, which is much appreciated. I will be chief umpire again for the Otago Championships in December, and will also be officiating at all the local Dunedin regattas plus the other regattas in Twizel. I look forward to the upcoming season and hope we won’t have Covid restrictions to deal with.
I would like to continue gaining more experience in all areas of race officiating, and I am considering applying to sit the FISA exams to be a race official at international regattas. This requires a great deal of study, but it would be amazing to represent Rowing NZ as an official at World Masters, Coastal Rowing, U19, U23 or Senior regattas.