Another major storm’s brewing the day the first ever Coastal Rowing Beach Sprint event comes to Auckland.

The wind’s getting up and so is the swell at St Heliers Bay. Boat-holding takes on a whole new meaning.

It’s not a day for flat-water rowing. Exactly.

Rowing New Zealand’s General Manager of Community and Development Mark Weatherall is pumped and not just because of the turnout.

With his long background in surf lifesaving competition, he can see huge potential for people outside of a traditional rowing pathway flocking to the sport.

Mark quotes an old surf lifesaving catchphrase about being “in it for life.”

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That combined the idea of saving lives with keeping people involved from the time they were Little Nippers to veteran stage.

The competition format is very similar and draws on the same athletic qualities as well as having sun, surf and sand in common.

Races begin with a crew member sprinting down to the water before boats go head-to-head out to marker buoys before finishing with that same sprint across the sand to a buzzer at the high tide mark.

The fact you can get an event up at any beach across the city in quickfire format is a huge drawcard for Masters rower Liz Forde.

“The energy down here is really, really good. Such an atmosphere of fun and adventure that adds a whole new level of excitement... when I was racing, I was out in the middle and I went, ‘I want to do this again’. I just loved it so much.”

There are almost 100 rowers entered in the come-down-and-try-it regatta put on by West End Rowing Club.

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The opportunity to give it a go has brought former rower Steve Westlake down to St Heliers.

His daughter has just started flat-water at North Shore RC so he’s re-igniting his passion for rowing, of any kind, as well.

“It's a fantastic spectator sport. You can go from a hero to zero pretty quickly with either hooking a wave or if you make a mistake at the start or miss a buoy and then you're in the dog box by taking a 20-second penalty. So yeah, it’s got everything.

And this is a guy who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. Twice.

So, is there room for both Coastal Rowing and its Flat-Water forerunner? Definitely, says Liz Forde.

“I actually think that they can work side by side. I like the history and the pedigree of normal skiff rowing, but I could come down here once a month and do this and just be out on the beach, enjoy our city, enjoy the water.  I think there's a real space for this and I think it'll open [the sport] up to a lot of different groups of people.”

GOPRO footage from inside the boat of the sacred heart quad at the Auckland Coastal Rowing Beach Sprint Event. 

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Auckland university and sacred heart quads after their showdown.

What’s ahead for Coastal Rowing

New Zealand will have a team at the sport’s Commonwealth Games debut in Victoria, Australia in 2026.

Rowing New Zealand are working longer plans for Coastal Rowing from the community right through to High Performance

There is a very strong possibility that the sport is welcomed into the Olympic programme for Los Angeles 2028.

 

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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.