New Kiwis Carol and Dennis Howard are totally immersed in life at the lake
Carol and Dennis Howard often look out at Lake Karapiro and think how far they’ve come to get here. To them, the lake is the greatest piece of rowing water in the world.
This is where they both rowed as teenagers in Johannesburg in the late 1990s: Wemmer Pan
Carol had an even more restrictive introduction to the sport than the Wemmer.
“I learned to row at Florida Park High School and we trained about a kilometre away at Florida Lake, that was only 500m from end to end.” says Carol.
Dennis was a runner-up three times in the boys eight for King Edward VII College at the schools championships.
They knew each other back then but their paths really crossed on the Wemmer at the University of Johannesburg, where Carol was the manager of the rowing squad and Dennis the head coach. Carol was also team manager for South Africa’s international crews and she and Dennis toured overseas together with their university squads.
They knew each other back then but their paths really crossed on that small piece of training water at the University of Johannesburg, where Carol was the manager of the rowing squad and Dennis the head coach. Carol was also team manager for South Africa’s international crews and she and Dennis toured overseas together with their university squads.
It’s a rowing partnership which is having a major spinoff for Kiwi rowers, Carol’s been the Operations Manager at Karapiro Rowing Inc. since 2021. Dennis is the Facilities Manager.
“It was October last year when they approached me and asked if I'd be interested to go and play with fencing wire for the rest of my life,” says Dennis, referring to the kilometres of course lines he’d just put down for the Christmas regatta.
Carol and Dennis emigrated to New Zealand in 2017, and they’ve just celebrated another big milestone on what’s been a challenging move halfway round the world. “We're officially Kiwis as of last month,” says Dennis. “We had to go and swear allegiance to King Charles himself, mate. And they gave us a cool piece of paper and a little tree to plant in the garden. “It’s the end of quite a long, hard journey. If anybody says immigration is easy, they're lying to you. It's a tough gig. [But] it feels like we've, we finally found our feet.” It actually couldn’t be any better right now. “New Zealand is, in my opinion, the best rowing country in the world per capita. It's quite difficult to argue against that point,” says Dennis. And he and Carol want to play their part in keeping it that way. “Our goal is to make Karapiro the most desirable rowing course on the planet, the most perfect rowing course in the world. Obviously, we’re rowing geeks and we’ve been to a lot of them and seen a lot of them and some are beautiful. You've got to compete with Lucerne, you've got to compete with a couple in the old Eastern bloc. But I think we've got a place that is fairly untapped.”
He and Carol would love to see more international regattas here, whether it be full world or age-group world championships or even a Pacific Rim U21 regatta. Canoe sprint, waka ama: A true venue for international water sports.
If anyone’s qualified or has the drive, it’s Dennis and Carol.
In September, they played a huge role in staging the World Masters Championships back in South Africa. Carol was on the organising committee and Dennis was ambassador. Both were boots on the ground. If getting Karapiro ready for regatta is a mission, this was off the charts.
The regatta was held in a remote valley near Tshwane (Pretoria) at South Africa’s national training base. It was the first World Rowing sanctioned regatta ever staged there. The logistics are enough to do your head in.
They had to ship around 170 boats in from Europe which were landed at the container port in Durban, then trucked 600km to the course.
They then had to rig and set up all the boats for racing and lay the course.
They had to create a small village to accommodate around 1500 athletes, officials and their family and friends.
“We did a glamping thing with anything from one star - which was a tent with a stretcher on it without a pillow - to five star, which is the most beautiful tent you can ever see with a toilet and a shower on the banks of the lake,” says Dennis.
“Wake up in the morning, and there's the course, bang! Walk 300 metres and your dining room is in the bush next to the course. Walk another 50 metres you're at your boat.
“Then you've got Bedouin stretch tents all along the embankment. Bean bags and lazy boy chairs, a nice big bar, ice baths, warm-ups, warm-downs, live music 12 hours a day. It was very cool, mate.”
And then the whole thing had to be packed back down - beans bags, Bedouin tents and boats back to Europe and all.
Photos from 2023 World Masters Championships. Dennis and Carol played a huge part in pulling together this regatta back in South Africa.
While Dennis had been smashing out the hours to get the course ready for the weekend, his enthusiasm was nowhere near waning.
“The Christmas Regatta you know, it's the one regatta in the world that is happening at this time of the year. Nothing else is happening in the whole world right now in terms of rowing and we’re hosting a regatta bigger than a world championships, bigger than a Maadi. It’s cool.”
Even cooler for a sharp observer of the sport. “Every day I get to see the national crews come past and quietly in the back of my head I'm like, ‘That's good, just seeing the different way coaches work. For now, that is enough of a fix for me. I get to talk rowing again, I get to watch rowing again and some absolutely fantastic rowing at that.”
It’s all adds to the coaching playbook for the man on the better side of 40.
“Remember, the best coaches in the world aren't 38 years old, mate. Takes time to become a good coach, doesn't it? I'm in absolutely no rush because there's a long, there's a long road ahead.
And Dennis is a strong believer that in rowing, one thing is indisputable.
“Rowers stay in rowing. That's what happens. You can't fight it. You can't run away from it. It always comes back and bites you in the bum.”
Dennis on the job at Lake Karapiro. Photo: Picture Show Ltd.
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.