Rangi Ruru's continued dominance of NZ school rowing made their rowsuits worth gold on the trading floor at the Maadi Regatta on Lake Karapiro - yet one of the smallest school teams made one of the biggest impacts, Andy Hay reports.

Negotiations begin as soon as Sunday’s Maadi Regatta parade, where more than 2300 secondary school rowers march up the main street of Cambridge in their number ones.

And while the biggest focus is on representing your colours with pride and passion on the water over the next six days, a lot of students have already begun bidding on social media for the most prestigious collegiate kit in the country.

By the following Saturday, the embankment at Lake Karapiro will become a frenzied trading floor where prized rowsuits from the 113 schools registered for Maadi 2023 are swapped, re-swapped and turned into the biggest commodity in schools rowing.

And like any tradeable item, aesthetics, rarity, prestige and performance play a big part in determining the most sought-after items.

Happy rowers with their successful trades on the banks of Lake Karapiro. Photo: Picture Show Ltd.

Happy rowers with their successful trades on the banks of Lake Karapiro. Photo: Picture Show Ltd.

So, let’s go down into the crush of that makeshift trading floor to tell the story of the 76th Maadi Regatta and the power of a rowsuit.

The yellow diagonal lines that run through the Rangi Ruru Girls' rowsuit are also the gold that runs right through their squad. They entered 15 events this year, won seven of them and finished with 11 medals all up.

They are simply a rowing machine, with a generous budget backing the programme.

They excel in eights rowing, and in quick conditions claimed the Levin 75th Jubilee Cup for a record 18th time. And for the first time since the trophy was introduced in 1981, “Rangi” became the first school to claim a one-two in the event, with the school's second U18 eight relegating fellow Christchurch powerhouse, the fast-finishing St Margaret’s, to bronze.

That victory meant Rangi Ruru secured the U18 trifecta - pair, four and eight - which only underlined the growing divide between girls’ programmes on either side of the Cook Strait. Of the 26 events, South Island schools won 19 of them.

Rangi Ruru returned home weighed down with the Star Trophy for best overall school, and the Executive trophy for best sweep oar school.

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The Rangi Ruru U18 eight hold the Levin Jubliee Cup they've won a record 18 times. Photo: Picture Show Ltd.

Any talk of trading suits was well off the radar for the rowers from Twizel Area School. They had a squad of first year rowers competing in six sculling events at Karapiro. Coach Kelvin Maker hadn’t even planned to make the hugely expensive trip north until his kids achieved something quite remarkable at the national club championships at Lake Ruataniwha in February.

It started with 14-year-olds Kiara Thyne and Sadie Mason winning the novice double sculls title after a season-long battle against two med students from Otago University. In three races leading up to nationals, the margin between the two crews was never more than 0.4 seconds.

And then on a typically beautiful summer’s day in the Mackenzie District, they put five seconds on the Otago women.

The following day, Luka Mains-Upson and Kobe Narruhn won the men’s intermediate doubles. Kids v adults, first year rowers beating those who’d raced in boats for years.

That started talk of finding a way to get the money, flights and boats booked on trailers and ferries, accommodation and time off school to get his squad up to Maadi.

The kids don’t have rowsuits of their own - they belong to the Twizel club. They are a rare and precious item, so you won’t find them on Maadi's trading floor.

But if you look on the rowIT.nz website that lists all the Maadi results, there’s a picture of a handsome dark green singlet encircled with a single black hoop. Singular. Six events entered, six A finals. And listed next to Event 20, the U18 Novice double, the names K Thyne and S Mason. Gold medal. Winning margin: Five seconds.

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Twizel's novice double champions Sadie Mason and Kiara Thyne (photobombed by Olympic champion Eric Murray). Photo: Sharron Bennett.

For most on the trading floor nothing competes with a rowsuit from Christ’s College or the red and black quarters of Hamilton Boys’ High. Christ’s are 13-time champions in the boys U18 eight, Hamilton have won it 11 times.

On Saturday they thought for more than a minute they’d made it 12. They’d tracked St Bede’s College out of Christchurch all the way down the 2000m stretch for what will be remembered as the greatest Maadi Cup final of all time.

It was impossible to separate the two as they crossed the line and the uncertainty remained for minutes. St Bede’s had led for most of the race but as they stood on the dock waiting, word came through it was Hamilton.

Shoulders slumped, the physical toll suddenly looked even harder to bear. Metres away, the Hamilton boys burst into celebration.

And then the official result: St Bede’s: 5:42.17, 1st; Hamilton Boys’: 5:42.23, 2nd.

The narrowest Maadi Cup-winning margin since it was first raced for in 1947. The fastest boys’ U18 eights race ever recorded in New Zealand.

Not far behind, the eight from Westlake Boys’ were also in a state of suspense. They’d claimed a first podium since 2013, with the possibility of more jubilation brewing - head coach Jo Shotter had promised if they went 5:45 or under, she’d take them to the Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames in June. Their time: 5:46.51.

But nothing beats a medal at Maadi. And the colours that carried all those athletes across the line at Karapiro might have taken on a value too precious to ever part with.

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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. This article was written orginally for LockerRoom and has been shared with their permission.