It’s a beautiful spring morning on Lake Karāpiro: the air is still and warm and the water calm. We’ve had a drive-past of the support boats and observed a minute’s silence in memory of the Queen.

Lake Karāpiro, 17/18 September 2022

PHOTO CREDIT: PICTURE SHOW LTD

I’m looking forward to getting my first race of the weekend out of the way, to test my
lung capacity, my slightly niggly lower back, my willpower and ability to drive through
pain.

I’m lined up for my singles race and enjoying the luxury of a held start. A light crosswind
means I have to keep touching my boat around slightly on bow side while we wait
for the woman in lane 7, who is painfully slow at backing into the start. I’m just
starting to feel irritated about the wait when I realise she is blind. Awe and respect flood
through me. This woman has come from Glebe Rowing Club on Sydney Harbour and is about to race a single.

Look around the boat park at a masters regatta. Not many people have a disability of this magnitude, but you just know that many have health issues of one sort or another. They also have buckets of determination.
Some started as school rowers and have stuck with the sport for 50 years or more.
Others came to rowing later in life. Some coach other people. One man I spoke to last
rowed in 1976 and has recently returned to pick up where he left off, now aged 76, and is revelling in the sense of his fitness returning. All have a wealth of stories about past crews, boats, wins and near misses, successes and disasters. All love the sport. Rowing is their
happy place.

The boat park is a place of community, and it’s heartwarming to be here after three years of few competitions. My gypsy friends and I came to the regatta from Dunedin, Cromwell and Lake Whakatipu. Together we rowed in a Nelson quad using Wellington’s blades

We used to see 60-year-olds rowing and say, ‘Look at those old people!’ Now we are in our 60s ourselves and we look at the rowers in their 80s and say, ‘Would you look at those old people!’

At an event like this, nothing feels like a problem. Gear is shared between clubs, and cooperation, support, laughter and goodwill are apparent.

Not so on the water, of course. There you find serious rivalry and competition. For some, the will to do well is fierce and indomitable, and they are pulling out all the stops to be first over the line. Others, however, are simply enjoying being part of the carnival atmosphere, the gathering of like minds, the sense of camaraderie and mutual support that is prevalent. It’s inspirational to be part of this masters regatta, this gathering of people for whom rowing is a passion.

In 2021, 185 masters rowers from 23 clubs attended the championships in Twizel. This year at Karāpiro, a healthy 275 rowers from 34 clubs bowled up ready to compete over two days. The weather gods smiled and all the volunteers did too – from the numbers hut to the medals table, from the start line crew to the team checking quick releases and bow balls. Volunteers and organisers enable the rest of us to indulge ourselves in our sport of choice. What nice people they all are.

Monday morning dawns gloomy and grey with a fresh wind tossing the lake. The boat park is empty again. We trundle towards Auckland airport, clutching medals and coffee. Was it worth it? Was it what!

imogen-square
WRITTEN BY

Imogen Coxhead