Smiles all round as Wanaka Rowing Club plays host to the 2024 South Island Masters Championships at stunning Glendhu Bay.

 

In 1998, the Port Chalmers Rowing Club commemorated its 125-year anniversary with a regatta primarily focused on masters. The success of this event sparked the creation of an annual South Island masters rowing regatta. The inaugural regatta took place at Kerrs Reach in 1999 and has since rotated annually across different provinces in the South Island. Now in its 24th year, the event continues to thrive.

This years regatta attracted around 254 competitors from throughout the country, and with beautiful Glendhu Bay in Wanaka as the location, it’s not surprising that so many were enticed to join in the action.

Glendhu Bay, just a short drive from Wanaka township adds to the long list of unique locations that the South Island Masters event has been held over the years. It’s clear from talking to many here this weekend that the opportunity to row on different stretches of water throughout the South Island is a real draw card to being involved.

The decision was made this year to bring the regatta forward from Kings Birthday weekend, likely in part I’m sure to competitors hoping for some slightly warmer weather. However in true Wanaka style, a fresh dusting of snow overnight on Friday, while adding to the picturesque backdrop, did provide an extra chill to the air!

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Glendhu Bay looking an absolute picture on day one of the South Island Masters Championships hosted by Wanaka Rowing Club. Photo: Elizabeth Inglis Photography

As with other years, it was great to see clubs from the North Island seizing the opportunity to spend the long weekend away. Competitors from Cambridge, North Shore, Taupo, Horowhenua, and Mercer rowing clubs all made the effort to participate in the Glendhu Bay racing. The generous sharing of boats and equipment from South Island based clubs was hugely appreciated by these clubs, ultimately taking away some of the logistical barriers that can exist with transporting boats. It’s evident that some very strong friendships have built up over the years amongst the wider masters community, this regatta providing an opportunity for long overdue reunions and even the chance to row together.

While there’s a relaxed atmosphere at this regatta, there’s still an undeniable competitive energy amongst these masters rowers, alongside a distinct nervousness and excitement in the novice crews. This year saw the introduction of 50:50 races, whereby half the crew can consist of novices, giving those new to the sport the opportunity to row with more experienced rowers.

Competing as a novice rower for the first time brings forth a whirlwind of emotions, regardless of age. Most set out with the goal of successfully getting from one end of the 1000m course to the other, with winning being the extra cherry on top. Among these novice rowers this weekend was the women's composite crew hailing from Invercargill and Waihopai rowing clubs, who had only been rowing together for a few months.

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Novice masters rowers from Invercargill and Waihopai rowing clubs, from left: Rachel Greenwood, Raewyn King, Kate Silvester, Rieke Meister and Ciara Hourston (cox). Photo: Elizabeth Inglis Photography

I caught up with them right after they’d come off the water, having just earned themselves a gold medal. Needless to say the excitement levels were high and they were understandably feeling very proud of their efforts.

Individually, their rowing experience spans from six months to one year, with some coming from corporate rowing, and others getting into the sport through having had children that also row.

If you canvas any masters rowing group you’ll discover it really is true that masters rowing attracts people from all walks of life, in this boat alone there is an accountant, a GP and a radiologist.

We talked about that while the desire to be on the water is high, it’s fitting in trainings around full time work, children and other commitments that can be challenging.

Raewyn tells me, “we train twice a week maximum if we can fit it in, we’ve only rowed this quad together a handful of times before we raced it”.

This group is clearly loving learning to row, “it’s the team mates, and our coaches, everybody helps everybody out - it’s just great camaraderie” says Raewyn.  They’re also enthusiastic about continuing to row, Kate indicating she’s encouraging everyone to sign up for the upcoming Cromwell to Clyde event, and it seems like there won’t be much persuasion needed to get everyone onboard.

And what advice would they give to others thinking about taking up masters rowing?

“Just give it a go, you can surprise yourself with what you can do” says Kate, Rieke adds, “there’s nothing nicer that getting out on the water after a days work, especially if you need to wind down and get out in the calm, it’s great”.

They were grateful to their dynamic coxswain Ciara who rows for Invercargill and Southland Girls High School. “Today’s race was fun, I think everyone got excited when they knew we were in the front because they started going really fast”. She was thrilled with how well the boat had responded to her calls throughout the race, and clearly happy the crew pulled off the win!

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Photo: Elizabeth Inglis Photography

Proud coach Suzanne Townshend is not far away, and we had a chat about the recruitment and coaching of this novice group that she has been working with over the last six months.

Much like other rowing clubs around the country a major fundraiser each year for the Waihopai Rowing Club is the corporate eights event. Through this they usually get a number of people to sign up and continue their rowing journey with the club. Of course there is also the well beaten pathway into masters rowing of parents keen to take up the sport after watching their children be involved over the years.

“This year I was given six novices to coach, and Julie Dyer who I row with from Invercargill Rowing Club also had some novices that had started, so we brought them altogether to teach them as a group”.

But it wasn’t just Suzanne and Julie in on the action each week.

“Frank Dean and Dave Galbraith saw how much fun we were having so they came along and helped too”.

With involvement from Invercargill, Waihopai and Awarua Rowing Clubs, it’s quite obvious that this multi club approach has really helped this group of novices put their best foot forward.

“There’s enough of them that we can make up boats most weekends based on who can make it”. The novices started learning to row in an eight, but through Invercargill they also had access to an an octi. Suzanne explains that they were quickly split into quads after that, “when we put one or two experienced rowers in with beginners we watched the skill level go up pretty quickly”.

These rowers from Invercargill weren’t the only novices in action over the weekend. Avon, Picton, Union, Wanaka, Cure and Otago rowing clubs all had novice rowers out on the lake giving it a go.

It’s exciting to anticipate the participation of these novice rowers at the New Zealand Masters Championships at Lake Karāpiro later this year. And judging from this Anzac weekend’s events, thrilling racing awaits across all masters categories!

liz inglis

Liz Inglis

Liz Inglis is a content creator and photographer based in Christchurch. As well as being a rowing parent, she is also a masters rower for the Avon Rowing Club.