Andy Hay has all the boatpark banter ahead of the 2023 Masters Rowing Championships.

 

They were the first eight out on the water in a boat that's also entering Masters lineage.

But it's beautifully maintained with maroon and yellow detailing and looks like it can handle a side chop, which might be handy this weekend on Lake Ruataniwha.

Yes, the Te Awamutu Rowing Club is down in force for Masters Rowing Championships.

They have 18 athletes here and almost as many supporters.

Four of the athletes work at the local Te Awamutu medical centre, Mahoe Med, and the crew's rugged-up in some smart training gear to go with it.

Tanya, Roz, Kirsty and Jess.

You'll spot Jess fairly easily at the boatpark - both her legs are covered in deep bruises from an encounter with a cow last week.

Tanya rowed at school and has helped put the crew together, which all began with an open day last year.

The women fundraised the $10,000 they needed to get to Twizel with a quiz night at the Pirongia Rugby Club. An auction, sold-out tables, big support from the local community and 150 people made the night a big success.

By the time the last person waltzed out of the rugby club, the trip south was on.

Dominic Mahoney's rowing journey started through Wellington Rowing Club when he was at St Pat's Kilbirnie.

His early rowing career ended badly when he was out on the water in Hawke's Bay. He was hit from behind by another boat, smashing two discs in his spine.

He took up coaching, helping Kirsty Ferguson win a Premier Lightweight Singles title for Canterbury. She was the club's first female club captain and is now Dominic's wife. So doubly good rowing longevity here, because Kirsty's here at Masters as well.

Dominic's just on the good side of 45 and took the sport up again after adding a bit of unwanted girth to his 6' 6" frame and testing it out somewhat ill-advisedly with a rush of blood to the head.

"Had a brain explosion three years ago and ended up racing in the Intermediate Eights at National Champs here with Dunstan and got 3rd place, age 41!"

In the three years he's been back he's lost 25kg and feeling good.

"You do it in your 40s 'cos it's fun, it's the process and it's good for you mentally. It's middle-age group therapy sitting on your bottom going backwards in a skinny bit of plastic, don't get too serious about it aye."

Jeff Steel started rowing back in the early 70s as a 16-year-old, winning a national title with Dunstan Arms in the Maiden Coxed Pair in 1972.

He coached at St Andrew's back in the 80's when he was an electrical contractor in Christchurch.

Jeff has rowed at Lake Dunstan most of his life.

He does weights twice a week and gets out on the water in his single most days of the year.

The Dunstan crew was putting a fairly big Filippi boat together and the absence of one of the athletes couldn't be helped. He was at a funeral in Christchurch. Geoff was suddenly a ring-in.

There was a brief discussion about going out in the choppy crosswind. A few hardy crews had already battled the chop.

After a fairly brief discussion the training row was postponed in favour of a beer in Twizel.

No row for Jeff in the big Filippi. It would have been one of the few rows he's taken in a sweep boat since 1975.

A few sites along the way, four women from the Riverton Rowing Club were putting up a tent in the growing breeze.

Very calm they were.

They age from in their 70s to one athlete in her late 20s.

She's the stroke. They crack up when it's suggested this might not work in the older women's favour. But they were unworried and up for it.

Now Peter Gamble is a character. He came bouncing along the roadway as the Dunstan mob were looking hopefully at the surf crashing onshore.

They instantly recognised him behind the shades and cap and called him over to see if he could take them out, seeing as they were short a ninth man.

Peter started coxing in 1963 at St Paul's High School in Dunedin.

He trialled for the New Zealand Men's Eight that went to Nottingham in 1975 and has fond memories of the former selector who doesn't live too far away from the course at Twizel - him being Fred Strachan, who's just celebrated his 100th birthday.

Peter stopped for a couple of years when he and his wife started a family but apart from that it's been uninterrupted devotion to the sport.

He's coxed a good few clubs along the way: Otago, Union, Canterbury, Otago University, Canterbury University, Petone, Porirua, Mercer and Whakatipu.

I asked if rowing had followed his life around or had his life followed rowing around?

"No, no, neither of those," says Peter shaking his head with a big grin. "Rowing has DICTATED my life."

At 73, he's as sharp and quick witted as I'm sure he ever was and he's somewhat kidding, somewhat more serious when he attributes his great boat feel to his bottom. It's all in the bum bones. This has Dominic and Kirsty walking away in hysterics.

There are sure to be lots more laughs this weekend, and plenty of serious rowing with a bit of the not-so-serious stuff thrown in too.

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.