You have to do the work whether it’s racing pigeons or rowers for this Christchurch coach.

 

There's a good Canterbury nor'easter roaring up the cliffs over Sumner Beach.

It's a very commanding perch overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean which is barreling onto the foreshore below and churning up the shallows of the estuary that leads to the Avon River.

I haven't said this to my host yet because I don't want to mix up my ornithology this early in the interview.

But the view from his lounge is kind of like being in an eagle's lair.

This might cause a slight ruffle of feathers because I'm not here to talk about those birds of prey, but how this inventive and successful rowing coach trains his athletes...well, the winged ones anyway, that are roosting even higher up the cliffs in his pigeon loft.

You see, even before he was happily chirping from riverbanks and lakes around the country, guiding his various crews to a long list of trophies, awards and a love of rowing, Dave Lindstrom was racing and breeding birds.

And though it might sound far-fetched, coaching rowers and getting birds to do a productive half hour of U2 training aren't so very different.

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All this bird banter began at the national rowing championships in February. There was a noticeable extra spring in this spring chicken's step as he and his cousin Ross Lindstrom and the Avon boys boosted off with the Boss Rooster.

There was some red and white paint to chuck around and they didn't have much time.

But when we did catch up the talk quickly turned from roosters to the much-maligned and misunderstood pigeon.

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So here I am sitting opposite the great trainer of birds and humans, with his wife Lynda listening in with a knowing smile.

Because for the next few hours, Dave Lindstrom, is about to take flight.

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Let's start with the season just gone and his first year with the girls squad at St Andrew's, where a bunch of young rowers won the U18 B eight and Freddy Todhunter gold in the U18 single.

What's the secret to motivating young people and keeping them interested in sport?

"You've gotta get involved with these young people. You gotta relate to them. You gotta have fun with them. They don't want an off coach, you know, a stuffy coach that just talks about rowing only. And these kids, they look, they delve into your past and they like to be part of it."

"Halfway through the season, we always bring them down to the beach here. I did that with the Whanganui Collegiate girls, I did it with [Christchurch] Girls High every year. It was a ritual thing. Play a lot of sport on the beach had different things, you know, running with parachutes on and all this stuff.”

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A photo of Dave's most treasured pigeon takes centre stage on the wall above the desk in his office. She is simply known as ‘36’.

Lynda and Dave can remember the time ‘36’ nearly didn't make it home.

"I took it to the vet once ‘cause it got stuck in the loft upside down, says Lynda. “It had a broken leg and I was going to get them to put it down because Dave was away. And then they told me what the number on its tag was and I said, 'Oh, we can't do that'. So it was a few hundred dollars later but I had to get them to fix it because it was Dave's best bird."

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No.36

His time as Head Coach at Whanganui Collegiate showed him the approach for girls won't necessarily work for boys.

"I found the girls more responsive than the boys. In fact, the last 30-minute erg we did up there, we used to do it at six o'clock in the morning, I had a really good 10-minute talk to the girls beforehand about just bringing the best out, this is the last one before we go to Maadi at Ruataniwha and the whole 24 did PBs.”

"But then I did the same talk to the boys the next morning, about 24 of them, and only three or four PB'ed. And there were some big buggers in it too."

"If you give the girls encouragement and put them on the right programme...the more you encourage them, the more they put into it."

Dave loves the communication aspect of coaching females as well.

"We talk about lots of things, they want to find out what you've done in rowing, your family life and everything. Young females are very inquisitive like that ."

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Dave's pigeons are bred for long-distance racing. At the end of the year there's the longest one of the season from the East Cape to home in Christchurch. A flight of more than 800 kilometres.

He'll wait anxiously on the balcony that looks directly out to the birds' route home. Just like any coach does at a regatta. And the satisfaction's the same when the birds make it home.

"You're sending them away in prime condition.  You know you've got the feed right, you've got the carbos right. You're feeding them well and they've raced every week. And then this is the big one. They come home half the size they were when they left ‘cause they're just nonstop, there's no stopping. And to get them home... it's not so much about the results, just getting them home on the day is enough."

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The love of birds began as a kid. Bird boxes at home were full of tumblers and rollers. They're the acrobats of the avian world.

Dave's dad Ted, a rowing legend in his own right, built him an aviary for budgies. Ted was all good with this until the budgies started being replaced by pigeons.

Dave's had parakeets, doves, fantails, but nothing matches the majesty of the racing pigeon in his mind.

“The fantails are quite nice. Had a lot of those and then eventually got into racing pigeons because they looked a bit more attractive and you could train them,” he says.

“So that became more interesting. I had them when I was through university, just in the backyard, but then I went up to Whakatane and they allowed me to race them up there.”

That was in 1970 after doing his BCom in Christchurch.

The pigeon racing club might have spiked his love of racing birds, but his rowing took off too when he turned up at the Whakatane Rowing club with his with Stampfli single scull strapped to the top of his Morris Minor.

He won two New Zealand eights championships in the white and black alongside guys like Wybo Veldman and Warren Cole, one an Olympic champion, one soon to be.

Veldman made the 1972 eight that won in Munich. Dave was also selected for Munich, his first senior international crew, the coxed four that was sixth in the A final.

The next year he was back in Christchurch and Avon RC, where he, Trevor Coker, Ivan Sutherland, Athol Earl and cox Dave Simmons, went unchanged and unbeatable, winning the Boss Rooster three years in a row.

That led to his best international performance, winning silver in the straight four at the world champs in Amsterdam in 1977.

His final international boat was the eight that won bronze at the world champs on Lake Karāpiro in 1978.

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He reckons the art of breeding good birds helped in his time as a national selector for six years, and convenor of the junior panel for nine.

"It's like humans and athletes," he says. "If you're a selector you can see the families coming through all the time. You can see [the top rowers'] children or their grandchildren, they've got something in them that you need to be able to produce fast boats or fast pigeons.”

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There have been a few...moments in his rowing life.

He's open about the St Bede's incident in 2015, when he quit his coaching role there after falling out with the school over its response to two boys riding a luggage carousel belt at Auckland Airport ahead of Maadi Cup that year.

Water under the bridge now though, he couldn't be happier to see the college win the 2023 Maadi Cup race in record time at Karāpiro.

He still had things he wanted to achieve as Head Coach at Christchurch Girls' High, though he loves the support he gets from the staff, parents and kids at St Andrew's.

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The best way to get from the eagle's lair to the pigeon loft is a near 50-year-old automated cart on rails.

Builders used it to ferry bricks and other materials up and down the cliff face when Dave's home needed repairs after the Christchurch earthquake.

It's time to let the birds out for a training flight.

Dave couldn't be happier with the conditions.

He likes to see his athletes come out of the shed with "vigour", whether it's the loft or boathouse.

It's not going to be easy in this headwind.

Those birds are going to have to work hard right off the start to get up and into a good rhythm.

The champion birds lead from the front, 528 and 532. Then the rest. 343. 296. Out they go.

Anaerobic and then aerobic.

Soon they're soaring above Sumner Bay. Quite a sight, all in perfect formation.

Just like a good rowing crew.

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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.

If you have any story ideas for RowingHub hit Andy up: andygohay1@gmail.com