Whatever waterway you train on, they all lead to something special at Aon Maadi Regatta.

 

On the opening day of racing, Ariki Curtis strode out in his formals to the flagpole just outside his home at the Mountain Chalets Motel and raised the New Zealand flag.

The Year 13 prefect then marched off to Twizel Area School where for the next five days he’d repeat the ceremony. Each afternoon he’d take the flags down to mark the end of another special day for the town.

“The flag always represents importance and I see it as showing everyone that was in town that this is an important thing to Twizel,” says Ariki.

He was talking about the significance of hosting Aon Maadi Regatta in the place that has special meaning for him.

His great grandfather Darrel Purton worked on the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme and was one of Twizel’s first residents when the town was founded in 1968 to house the construction teams. Out of that construction Lake Ruataniwha was born.

Darrel became a bit of a rowing nut himself and regularly umpired at Ruataniwha over the years.

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WAKA LEADER ARIKI CURTIS (FAR LEFT) AND THE TWIZEL AREA SCHOOL PUPILS LEADING THE CHARGE AT THE MAADI PARADE.

In 2024, more than 2100 athletes got the chance to make their mark on the Ruataniwha course.

Carmen Hurst is just one of the many parents trying to make Maadi week memorable for  everyone involved.

She and her husband Mark own a 220ha dairy farm in Waimate, South Canterbury, so there were plenty of foliage available to dress up the Craighead Diocesan tent at Ruataniwha.

The tents are one of the outstanding features of a South Island Maadi and Carmen’s home-away-from-home was a standout.

She and a small team spent hours on sewing bunting, arranging plantings and toe toe as well as other touches. The small grandstand they share outside with Timaru Boys’ High also comes in handy.

‘’I guess we wanted to showcase South Canterbury to all the other visiting schools there,” says Carmen. “We host Waikato Diocesan when they're down here and we just wanted to make them feel welcome, all the parents and spectators feel welcome.”

“Another thing we put up [was] photos of the girls of the squad around the tent too, just to allow people to reflect on the season and all the fun the girls have had. It's not always about the medals at the end of the day, it's about the journey they've had.”

There was definitely success on the water though. Of the 13 events Craighead entered, the girls made 10 A Finals, winning a gold in the U17 Coxless Pair and a bronze in the U17 Coxed Four.

That’s a lot of A Finals for a programme run mainly out of Saltwater Creek in Timaru, a barely 1km-long tidal stretch in the south of town.

Craighead’s neighbours, Timaru Boys’, also had a top regatta. They had crews in 12 A Finals of the 17 events they contested. The “dogs” in their Under 17 Coxed Four (as affectionately described by commentator Alex Kennedy) went back-to-back after winning the U16 title last year. And Ben Allan won the Boys U17 Single Sculls title, and the Laszlo boat that comes with it courtesy of Aon, by 0.62sec over Jake Newton from Whanganui High School.

Thursday at Maadi, especially if the threat of weather affecting the finals days is looming, is huge for the scullers. It’s basically quarter and semifinals days for the quads, doubles and singles.

It’s the moment those chasing titles have to back-up bigtime.

There was James Dimock from Macleans College, and many like him, stacking up three races all before 12.30pm.

James won his quarter-final of the Boys U18 1x at 9.05am. He was third in semifinal 1 of the U18 2x at 10.25am. Then he finished second in semifinal 2 of the U18 1x at 12.20pm.

Wellington College’s Emma Bagrie also had three races that day, she and Ella Barr winning their semifinal of the Girls U18 2x, then her semifinal of the U18 1x before winning her semifinal in the U18 4x just an hour later.

Emma went on to win the 1x and 2x and claim silver behind a brilliant crew from Cashmere High in the 4x.

James won gold in the 1x, bronze in the 2x and seventh in the 4x.

There were some great displays of commitment and endurance in the sweep events as well.

Amanda Horne was stroke of the Epsom Girls Grammar U16, U17 and U18 eights and they qualified for all of the A Finals. Four other Epsom girls did the triple: Jess Walkinshaw, Ruth Burge, Eden Hogg and Madeline Donovan.

Some notable firsts included Wellington’s Samuel Marsden Collegiate winning its first ever Maadi Regatta title with a gold in the Girls Under 15 Coxed Quad.

rowIT’s Andrew Carr-Smith knew they’d been having a good season and was up in the tower when the race came down.

“I was pretty excited because my two sisters had started up rowing as a sport at Samuel Marsden so I fired them off a quick photo of the girls picking up their gold medals on the dais saying ‘Hey, look at where the school’s come since the days when you were first rowing’.”

Louise and Sarah were the first rowers at SMC back in about 1989-90.

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IMOGEN, CHARLIE, MADDI, MILLIE AND ISABELLA WITH COACH JAMIE FITZGERALD FROM  WELLINGTON’S SAMUEL MARSDEN COLLEGIATE AFTER TAKING OUT THE GOLD IN THE U15 4X+ (COXED QUAD) AND FOLLOWING THAT UP WITH A BRONZE IN THE U15 4+ (COXED FOUR).

The wait for a first Maadi Regatta medal has been much shorter for Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu, winning silver in the Boys Under 18 Novice Coxed Quad in just their second season of rowing.

The correspondence school students trained out of the Bay of Plenty Coast RC on the Wairoa River.

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The Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu Boys Under 18 Novice Coxed Quad crew after winning their first Maadi medal. 

Mt Albert Grammar will forever be keenly associated with schools rowing, being the first ever winners of the Maadi Cup in 1947. This year, they added some new history to their long story with Olivia Tattersfield becoming the first female student at the school to win a Maadi title.

Even better, it was the Under 17 Single, so the school gets a brand new boat, thanks to Aon and Laszlo.

Olivia also won a silver in the U18 Coxless Pair with Lily Curnow, and in another little piece of MAGS history, they were part of the Girls U18 Eight that made the A Final, alongside the Boys Eight that also rowed in the A Final, a first for the school.

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Olivia Tattersfield from Mt Albert Grammar after winning the U17 Single Sculls.

It’s been nearly three weeks since Christchurch Girls High pulled off one of the great victories in the Girls Under 18 Eight to win their first ever Levin Jubilee trophy.

They had an assembly just a few days ago to recognise the school’s summer sports achievements and the girls were once again presented with the cup.

The win still feels a bit unreal to cox and rowing captain Sofia Bohm but she’s clear about what it means to the school.

“When I think about my past four years there is school and all the other stuff I've done, but I feel like I’ve always just come back to rowing...I've been very involved in it and just all the hard work paying off and  making everyone  proud as well, like my family, friends, the school itself,  just doing it with everyone.”

CHRISTCHURCH GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL'S COX AND CAPTAIN, SOFIA BOHM, TALKS ABOUT WHAT WINNING THE GIRLS UNDER 18 EIGHT MEANS TO HER AND THE SCHOOL.

PLUS, Listen to Sofia Bohm call Christchurch Girls’ home for their first ever Levin Jubilee Cup victory.

Stroke Keira Wolff hopes it will have a lasting impact at Christchurch Girls’.

“I feel it's like setting up for the younger girls, they're able to see us as someone to look up to and [know] they can do it as well, it could inspire them to do similar things in their races.”

They’d worked out a crushing, attacking race plan with coaches Andrew Blake, Dave Hatton and head coach Gary Hay, and Keira went for it.

“From the first 250 I was already pretty tired,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, no. Still got the whole race to go’. But we'd talked about at the 500 when everyone's tired it's not the time to take a breath.  It's more, you take another step up and try and keep going.”

The way they fought off one last attack from St Margaret’s with 400m to go proved just how committed everyone had been that day, say Sofia and Keira.

ChCH Girls High School GU18 8+ Winners (2)

Christchurch Girls High pulled off one of the great victories in the Girls Under 18 Eight to win their first ever Levin Jubilee trophy.

Hamilton Boys’ High School’s clean sweep of the U18 sweep was epic. They were under the spotlight for a good part of the week following National Radio’s series of stories questioning whether the quest for supremacy in schools rowing had “got out of hand”.

The school has stayed at the High Country Lodge in Twizel for around 20 years as far as Director of Rowing and U18 coach Caleb Shepherd can recall, and every evening the boys gather in their formals for an informal game of cricket.

“The whole approach to our squad and Maadi campaign was keeping things low key,” says Caleb. “Letting our rowing do the talking and just enjoying being with each other... so I guess the cricket game is a manifestation of that in some way.”

He says the loss to St Bede’s last year was the catalyst for their success.

“Ever since last year's heartbreak for the boys in that really tight finish, we were super determined to get the eight. The boys went away over winter and did some really good off-season training. Like they put on some muscle, they got fitter and stronger, which allowed us to have a go at all three events.”

“We had a tricky season, got our butts kicked at Nationals and sort of went back to square one. To come away with it [was] pretty awesome really.”

The crew is sticking together for the next few months after deciding to opt out of Under 19 trials and instead contest the Henley Royal Regatta in July.

It was a decision driven by the boys, says Caleb.

He’s realistic about where they sit alongside the top GB schools like St Paul’s, Eton and Shiplake.

“We sat down the other day and crunched some numbers...there’s going to have to be a big improvement for us to be competitive in terms of the top level at Henley but the boys are up for the challenge and I guess we’re just going to try and go as fast as we possibly can over the next few months and see if we can show the UK and the world where the New Zealand schools are at.”

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Hamilton Boys’ High School’s U18 8+ after winning the Maadi Cup. 

Whether it’s a Maadi Regatta at the lake Ariki Curtis’ great grandfather helped create, Henley, or a short strip of water at Saltwater Creek in Timaru, the flag is definitely flying high in schools rowing.

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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.