TeamTalk with Jackie Kiddle – How to watch a rowing race

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With the summer racing season in full swing and many new athletes, parents and families joining the regatta sidelines, I thought it might be fun to have a look at where the best spots down the course are for parking up for a day at the races. 

 

Across the 2km course, there are really four good spots to watch from. These are the Start line, the 1km (halfway point), the 250m mark and the Finish. 

The Start line

Before the start of the race (approximately 10mins) the crews are called in to the starting blocks from the warm-up area.

You’ll notice on your day sheets that each race has a letter and each crew within the race has a lane number, with both of these displayed on the bow of the boat. The crews will come along the side of the blocks and proceed to back in until their stern is grabbed by a boat holder lying down on a plinth. 

Depending on the experience of the crews this process can be completed like clockwork… or not. On a windy day this process can become absolute carnage, especially for novice crews in bigger boats. I remember being absolutely terrified the first time I was in a novice 8 and we had to back into those blocks. For some crews getting in and lined up is already a win! 

The race off the start is also where the crews will go their fastest speed and the race is often the closest. The 8s are incredibly loud as the coxswains start yelling straight after the start buzzer. This can make for exciting watching. 

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The women's four of Phoebe Spoors, Beth Ross, Davina Waddy and Catherine Layburn on the start line at the 2022 World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland. Photo: Jackie Grace Photography and Design

The 1km (pronounced 1-k)

The 1k is a very different watching spot. Most crews have got into their groove by this point and the field tends to spread out. This is a typical point in the race for crews to make “moves” and you can see some crews taking on those in front. It tends to be a bit slower watching but on both the Karapiro and Twizel course there are cycle paths around this area that mean you can follow the race down a bit easier than at the start. 

The 250m mark

At 250m to go things can really start to get spicy in a rowing race. The 250 is typically when crews start to “wind” (think wind like a clock not wind as in gust of). Rates come up and technique can start to disintegrate, where it looked pretty at the start and through the middle, the 250 is really starting to hurt and the crews out on the course are going to show it! 

The 250 is a great place to start yelling from the bank. You might be surprised how much you can hear from the water. I find when talking to other athletes that they often have one voice that they can hear really clearly from the bank. For me this is my Dad. Sometimes I can’t hear anyone else but I can hear Dad (except the girls from Wellington Girls’ College, you guys are the best cheer squad). 

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The women's four of Phoebe Spoors, Beth Ross, Davina Waddy and Catherine Layburn at the 2022 World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland. Photo: Jackie Grace Photography and Design

The Finish

Think fist pumping, water splashing and high fiving celebrations. There can be close calls, side-line chanting, cow bells, photo finishes and even the odd capsize. The finish line is the place to be for spectacle especially on finals day at the big events like the Maadi Cup. It’s the place the photographer’s want to be for all the action, but it can be pretty busy! Even still if you like the high energy of a close finish, the finish line can be a great place to watch some fast, crazy racing. 

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The men's pair of Tom Mackintosh and Matthew McDonald crossing the finish line at the 2022 World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland. Photo: Jackie Grace Photography and Design

In 2022 I had the most insane opportunity to photograph my partner as he won the World Rowing Cup in the Lightweight Men’s Single in Poland. I think my heartrate climbed up higher than when I had actually rowed that morning and most of my photos were blurry because I was shaking so much but I got the shot as he celebrated, beating the current Olympic Champion. Nothing beats watching family celebrate when they cross the line. 

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Matthew Dunham after winning gold in the men's lightweight single sculls at the 2022 World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland. Photo: Jackie Grace Photography and Design

So there you have my four course watching spots and how to watch a rowing race. Hopefully this prepares some of the newer members of our rowing community for an exciting domestic racing season!

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Jackie Kiddle

Jackie Kiddle has been a member of the NZ Rowing Team since 2017. She has won a World Rowing Championship Gold, Silver and Bronze in the LW2x and LW1x. Jackie also has a BSc and MSc(Research) from the University of Waikato.