Rowing NZ reflects on its coastal program ahead of the Commonwealth Games and Olympics
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Rowers start from the start line in the Men’s B Quads Final on day two of the World Coastal Rowing Championships in Saundersfoot, Wales.
Rowing New Zealand will decide next year whether or not to introduce a high performance program for coastal rowing, as the discipline is set to feature in the Commonwealth Games and Olympics this decade.
Coastal rowing was confirmed earlier this month as the top sport for the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Australia, and looks certain to be part of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles and four years later in Brisbane .
Rowing NZ chief executive Geoff Barry said the organization has supported Rowing Australia’s efforts to have coastal rowing contested in four years’ time with the understanding that it will make up a larger part of international rowing elite in the years to come.
“We understand it’s probably going to be in LA – so the idea of having a development path for LA is probably a good success…it’s relatively affordable and accessible for us,” Barry said of the Games. Commonwealth of 2026 across the Tasman.
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Barry said that while the development of coastal rowing in New Zealand would be organic at a community level, a discussion needs to take place around high performance.
“We have a lot of peak events – World Championships and Olympics – for our elite rowers, so the coast was the natural place to go.
“We haven’t made much headway in the conversation about what a high performance program would look like. We need to make a decision over the next calendar year what a high performance program looks like and how it will be funded.
“I think there will be a commitment over the next 12 months to go hard or not. My natural instinct is that we will – I think it’s too good of an opportunity not to.
Among the decisions Rowing NZ will likely have to make is whether at some point an inshore program would be exclusive of the current ‘flatwater’ HP program at Lake Karapiro.
There are two formats of coastal rowing – an endurance event and a beach sprint discipline.
At the World Coastal Rowing Championships, individuals or crews compete in races of 4 to 6 kilometers around several turning points.
The World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals sees a knockout style of racing, with a short sprint along the beach, a 250m row and a 180 degree turn before returning to the beach and sprinting to the line of arrival.
There are currently seven boat classes for men and women: solo, double sculls, quadruple sculls with coxswain and mixed double sculls.
A handful of New Zealand rowers have independently contested both world coastal rowing championships recently – some shortly after winning medals at the world rowing championships in Racice in the Czech Republic.
Tokyo Olympics sculls gold medalist Emma Twigg was among them – she won gold in the World Beach Sprint Final in Saundersfoot, Wales in the CW1x category (decided on the fastest times after the race was canceled during the quarter-finals because the conditions had become too dangerous for the race) after taking silver in the Czech Republic.
The 1972 Olympic gold medal winning men’s eight crew recently gathered in Wellington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their legendary race.
Jackie Kiddle, who won bronze in the lightweight women’s singles at Racice, was part of the Coastal Mixed Quadruple Sculls team with Twigg who took silver.
“It’s been an interesting few days, we’ve learned a lot in every race we’ve done,” Twigg said after the medal presentation in the beach sprint event.
“Today the Spanish crew showed us how sprint rowing is done, and they obviously looked quite skilled.
“I’ve had a fantastic time over the past two weeks, it’s been amazing. people have been incredibly friendly so hopefully next year we’ll be back wherever it is and learned a few things from this week.”
The duo were previously part of a women’s quadruple crew that also won silver at the World Coastal Rowing Championships at the same venue the week before, while New Zealanders Ben Mason and Brook Robertson clinched the bronze.
Barry said Rowing NZ would build on their experiences to develop a future coastal rowing programme.
Coastal rowing is expected to replace the lightweight program after the 2024 Paris Olympics, while the racing program for Victoria 2026 could include men’s and women’s sculls, a mixed four and possibly a mixed eight.
The events are designed to be contested in the surf of maximum one-metre waves, with Barry suggesting places like Mairangi Bay, Red Beach and Wellington’s Inner Harbor as potential training sites.
The Rowing NZ boss said coastal rowing will bring in a different, thrill-seeking audience “and that will appeal to some of our existing rowers”.
“It probably gives us a better understanding of what kind of stimulus will keep some of our rowers engaged. It will keep some of these athletes in the sport longer, no doubt.