Karapiro came to a standstill as the two big eights races capped off a fantastic final day. 

 

The draft system that helps fill the field for Premier Quad Sculls and Eights events always stirs up a bit of passion. Should the Summer Squad athletes be allowed to row for their clubs or stay in Rowing NZ’s lane and be part of the draft picks?

You could debate that ‘til next year’s NZ Rowing Championships.

But whatever the point of view, a hush descends for the six or so minutes it takes for each of the four races to come down the course.

In the case of the Men’s Eight, the suspenseful watching went on and on as race officials tried to figure out the winner.

The North Shore composite had beaten the Avon club crew by just .07 of a second. North Shore had finally got their 150th anniversary present.

Words will never do the race justice, luckily you can watch the replay on rowinghub.co.nz/livestream

Seventeen-year-old coxswain Samuel Fisher was taking a bit of time to process the significance of winning his first Red Coat.

“It's a weird feeling, a real weird feeling actually. I've walked out of there now and I'm like ‘Holy heck, I just won the Prem 8.”

The Auckland Grammar student was selected by former Grammar rower Matt Macdonald, stroke of the gold-medal winning Tokyo Olympics Eight.

The North Shore’s southern-most guest, Jack Pearson from Dunstan Arm RC, had just claimed his first Red Coat as well.

He was also still trying to process how they’d done it.

“No idea, just a whole lot of balls and some big watts I guess from everyone involved.  Does help when you have Matt Macdonald in stroke seat, that's for sure.”

What about young Sam in the coxswain’s seat?

“He really kept us in it, kept calling us up on Avon. Bloody good coxswain. Gave me a big call, called my name, love it when they do that, it really fires me up.” says Jack.

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Seventeen-year-old coxswain Samuel Fisher from Auckland Grammar (far right) on the podium after winning the Men's Prem Eight at the 2024 NZ Rowing Championships. Samuel is holding the Alan Boykett Memorial Trophy. The Alan Boykett Memorial Trophy is presented to the coxswain of the Champion Eight. Alan Boykett tragically drowned on the Wellington Harbour in 1968 while coaching a Victoria University crew training for the University Easter Tournament. The trophy takes the form of a carving in wood of a seated coxswain. Photo: Picture Show Ltd

The Women’s Eight was equally exciting, and almost as close.

The Hauraki Plains composite captained by Stella Clayton-Greene 0.6 seconds ahead of Avon’s club crew.

Epsom Girls’ Grammar student Stevie Mabey is also 17 and a first-time Red Coat winner, just like rowing buddy Samuel Fisher.

“We were talking before and we were like, ‘Surely we both bring home a Red Coat,’ but I think we're kind of joking. I can't believe it. It's unreal.”

She was sitting in three seat with Emma Twigg just up ahead in five seat.

“Twiggy's been my biggest idol since day one and getting in a boat with her and winning my first red coat in her last national race, it's pretty insane.”

Emma: “I'll never say never because you never know who you might end up racing within Masters crews and things like that but I'm feeling confident it'll be my last Premier race, my last Premier title.”

What a way to go out.

“Yeah, it's pretty cool. Three from three.”

The Eight, the Single and the Double.

Hauraki Plains RC could never dream of boating a winning club eight these. But with Stella as captain, their name will go on the trophy for the first time.

It means everything to Stella, who’s resisted constant offers to move to Waikato.

“My own father, he was from Waikato Club. But I just couldn't leave Hauraki like that. I just have a lot in my heart that's in Hauraki still and it's things like the draft that make it possible for me to be in a big boat.”

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The Hauraki Plains composite captained by Stella Clayton-Greene on the podium after their win in the Women's Premier eight. Photo: Sharron Bennett Photography

10 Years Together

The Boss Rooster was back in Avon hands after one of the great Premier Four finals. Sure, you’d love to see eight boats across the lanes but when you’ve got three crews going for it, like the defending champions, North Shore and Waikato did, you’ll take it. North Shore had brought Michael Brake out of retirement for one last spin to see if they could snatch the title to mark their 150th anniversary. They and Avon were nearly inseparable for the first half before conditioning and combination got the Southerners home in 6.01.94. They were almost grateful to the crew in blue for dragging them out so far ahead of Waikato, who flew home for second (6.03.54). Avon’s victory is also a wee triumph for St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. 10 years ago, Ben Taylor, Thomas Russell and Zachary Rumble were in an U15 Four together at Aon Maadi Regatta in Twizel. Ben was in stroke, Tom in 2, Zac in bow. Exactly the way they were seated for 2024’s big row together. It’s a bond that’s lasted through many rows and races together. “Every time we get in the boat there's always confidence and always trust and belief that we can do it,” says Ben.

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Ben Taylor, Thomas Russell and Zachary Rumble were in an U15 Four together at the 2014 Aon Maadi Regatta in Twizel. Ben was in stroke, Tom in 2, Zac in bow. Photo: Rob Bristow & Streamline Photography

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The same three in the same seats in Avon’s 2024 NZ Rowing Championships Boss Rooster-winning boat. Photo: Sharron Bennett Photography

The boy in the three seat back then was Mitchell White. He went on to win the Springbok Four at Aon Maadi in 2017 with his three crewmates as well as the Maadi Cup that year.

These days he’s coaching at St Andrew’s.

A reunion was almost a reality.

Zac: “We actually sent him a message that we were rowing this, and he said, ‘Oh s***, should I get a flight and come up?’”

They’re pretty happy with the current three man. Ollie Welch has had another high achieving nationals, winning Under 22 Coxless Pair with Fred Vavasour and he’s hoping to be back in an U23 NZ boat with trials beginning this week.

Martha mines silver

Martha DeLong’s an interviewer’s dream. The geologist who once searched for precious metals needs zero prompting. We introduced you to her ahead of the week where she’d just completed finishing camp in the Waikato women’s Intermediate squad.

Her 68-year-old legs were done after seat racing and some 2K racing.

On the final morning of NZ Rowing Championships she reaped the reward of all that intense work.

She was giving it everything in four seat of the Waikato Intermediate Eight that finished just .20 of a second behind winners Hamilton RC.

“I've done my dash,” she says. “I have had the most spectacular club season that an old lady could have.  It's been brilliant. Everything I wanted I ticked the box and I walked away with a silver, so I'm happy.”

She had seven races this week and plans to be back for another championships next February, as long as she’s not holding any of the younger athletes back.

“I need to ensure that Waikato's okay with that...I wouldn't want to interfere with that programme...you know, have to take extra time to let the old lady catch up in the rear.”

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Waikato’s Martha DeLong (right) with the silver medal she won in the Intermediate Eight and her daughter and coach Anna. Photo: Sharron Bennett Photography.

In it for life

Deb Debbage was three months pregnant when she competed in the NZ Rowing Championships for Porirua in 1979.

Jono Debbage, the little boy that emerged six months later, claims that as his first nationals. He reckons that’s where he got his love for rowing, hearing and feeling that repetitive bump from his mum finishing out those strokes into her tummy.

“You know what they say about playing classical music when kids are in that stage?” says Jono.

“So, I think finishes are probably just ingrained in me.”

Both his parents remain active in the club, mum was the first female captain at Porirua, while dad Tony drove the truck up to Karapiro this time and is umpiring. Both are life members.

Jono’s in his third stint as club president and is coaching the 15 athletes drawn from all the schools in the Porirua area.

He started as a coxswain when he was 10 and his thoughts have never been far from the boatshed at Onepoto, even during the time he was living and working overseas.

“Red, white and blue. It's in the blood, basically. You know, it's what I grew up doing,” he says, pointing to the ink on his arm.

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Porirua club captain and coach Jono Debbage with his athletes on the last day of the NZ Rowing Championships. Porirua Proud.

“When I went to the UK and was working in bars, people would see it and they're like, ‘What football club's that?’

“Porirua Rowing Club, this is my football club,” he’d reply to the tattooed Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham fans he’d be pulling pints for.

“It's that same sort of mentality, you do it for life.”

Whatever rowing colours you wear, wear them proud. See you next year.

The 128th NZ Rowing Championships are done.

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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.