Swift Racing NZ National Beach Sprint Champs, Nelson, 2023

beach sprints, NZ Rowing, NZ Beach Sprints Champs 2023

The “Keys Family” coxed quad

Bright and early on January 3, Tahunanui Beach in Nelson was all action. Members of the Nelson Rowing Club converged on the beach from 5.30am to pitch tents, rig coastal boats, set up a buoyed course and prepare for the third edition of the Swift Racing National Beach Sprint Champs.

Over 90 Competitors signed up, representing Clubs from all over NZ*. Participants covered all stages of the rowing journey, from novices through senior school rowers, Club, Elite and Masters rowers. Some entrants had experienced Beach Sprints before, either in Nelson or (in the case of some elites) at World Champs in Wales last October. For many other entrants, this was their first foray into Beach Sprint racing. (more photos below)

Nelson turned on a perfect day – warm, lightly overcast, calm, with a small wave at the shoreline. This was the qualifying regatta for the Bali Beach Games, to be held in August. The Bali Games will include mens and womens solos, and mixed doubles. Emma Twigg qualified for Bali at the World Beach Sprint Champs last October, but there were still spots available for NZ mens’ solo and mixed double, and for all three boats from Australia.

The 2023 event was the third time the Nelson Rowing Club and Swift Racing NZ have delivered National Beach Sprint Champs. Each year has evolved, getting ever closer to World Rowing format. This year featured digital timing equipment, including ‘stop’ buttons, so that each racer had to ‘hit the buzzer’ to stop their clock. That made for some exciting finishes as runners would dive for the line.

A full complement of NZ Registered Race Officials were in attendance, helping deliver a fair and safe event. Mark Weatherall, Community Manager of Rowing NZ, spent the day on the water driving an Umpire boat. Mark also attended the aftermatch, at the Nelson Rowing Club, and presented the medals. Each year the medals are special to this event – in fact this year they were not medals at all, but pet rocks – schist river rocks, local, labelled and unique.

Special thanks to Karmyn Ingram Photography, who travelled over from Picton for the event. Karmyn has put many beautiful images up on Facebook. TVNZ published a short segment about the regatta on the 6pm news on January 3.

Th*Clubs included Avon, Shirley Boys, Canterbury RC, Cure, St Margarets, Cashmere High School, Star, Waikato, Rowing NZ, Cambridge, Wairau, Picton, Hawkes Bay, Nelson.

coastal rowing turning, coastal doubles race, New zealand rowing

Mens masters double from Star Club

Beach Sprint Rowing, Masters Rowing New Zealand,

Star Club mixed double scull

Womens Masters Quad

Womens Masters Quad composite

coastal rowing turning, coastal singles race, buoy turn coastal, NZ Coastal Rowing

Womens masters singles race start

Recovery for Masters

Just as pushing your bow across the line for the first time in the 50+ age category signifies entering a mature phase of your rowing career it may also mark new adventures in maintaining equilibrium in your training schedule. Masters athletes need to include the same intensities of work in their race preparation as their younger counterparts. However, the difference for masters is how and when workouts are planned in the weekly schedule to adjust for potentially longer recovery periods as the body requires more time. 

How to improve as you age

Improving your performance as you age is linked to maintaining a relatively high VO2 max. This means that high intensity intervals at race pace need to be key elements of any master’s program in combination with the substantial endurance work that rowing demands. Such intervals also place a lot of stress on your physiological systems so the volume and frequency needs to be approached carefully to optimize the benefits. Recovery periods are when your body makes the positive adaptation to the work you just did, without a good recovery period, you risk physical break-down and injuries can occur more easily.

Only you can gauge how much recovery you need between the intense sessions of the week. Monitor your morning resting heart rate the day after, if it is elevated above your norm, include low intensity sessions until it returns to normal rest rate. If this typically takes two days you can schedule a total rest day, easy distance work, or low intensity cross training. Using an app to track your heart rate variability gives an even more accurate measure your state of recovery. I use the HRV4Training app.

Weekly training patterns can vary, be creative so you don’t get bored.  You may find you feel more energized taking a total rest day after three training days. If a traditional weekly pattern is better for your schedule, resting Monday and Friday might give you the edge you need to maintain quality workouts during the in-between days.

Ways to recover from training

The best form of recovery as you age is sleep. Getting 40 winks, taking cat naps, or simply lying down restores your energy the fastest especially when backed up by healthy eating. Look over your weekly cycle and build your recovery days around your priority sessions of the week and follow it up with a good dose of rest.


Masters Sweep Camp Nov 2022

St George’s Rowing Club was the host for a masters sweep camp organised by Christine Hobbs. Focusing on sweep rowing, the camp was open to only 16 athletes plus 3 coxswains. The host club took the opportunity to invite club coaches to join in to watch and learn as well.

Christine’s vision was a focused camp over a weekend just to work on technique in mixed eights. She was not disappointed.

The legion assisted with organisation know-how, introduction to a suitable coach, pricing and publicity.

Having sent one newsletter announcing the camp to Legion members, it filled up in 3 days – with a waiting list.


It was the best coaching I’ve had in my life. Raf is truly good at coaching masters. Understanding what it takes to move a boat in sweep oars. We did 2 sessions on the water each day Saturday and Sunday and a group dinner Saturday night. A terrific way of building relationships across the clubs.

The coaching was exception – you could do it 3-4 times in Auckland. Christine had double the of number of enquiries afterwards from people who’d missed out.

More Masters Camps

Legion of Rowers would like to support more masters camps – if your club would like to host, please get in touch. Our ideal is to hold one in each province each year.

Coach Raf Wyatt, Masters Sweep camp

Masters sweep eight on the Tamaki

Raf Wyatt coaches good ergo technique

Coach Raf Wyatt demonstrates erg technique

Carrying the eight – Masters Sweep Camp

Race plans for rowing head races

Getting ready to race takes a lot of practice. Fortunately come head racing season there are a lot of different events where you can practice and improve. As masters we enjoy the challenge of long distance rowing races and accept that we need to plan our training and practice before expecting to be successful racing,

Rowing winter peak event

When reviewing your plan for the season, you will need a winter “peak” event. This is your top priority for your group, crew or yourself. Frequently this event is the Head of the Charles or the Eights Head of the River or the Head of the Yarra. The trouble is that two of those events fall early in the head racing season and that gives you limited opportunity to practice and refine your race plan in advance with practice events. Ideally you want to do a race distance 2 weeks before your main event as a practice. If there isn’t a formal race, plan a local informal one against other people in your club or invite a nearby club to race you in a private match.

Don’t worry, Faster Masters Rowing has you covered. In this article we will cover off the 3 key things you need to have practiced and how to compose them into a written race plan which will see you through any head race event.

4 Elements of your head race plan

All races are the same. All races are different.

You need a plan for each race. All plans go out of the window once the race starts. Yes we know that sounds contradictory…. let us explain.

Exceptionally scary statements. All true and all things you need to learn how to execute to a high level of skill.

Having a rowing coach will help you become an adaptable athlete who can race in ANY situation. Faster Masters Rowing is your coach.

So every race plan has these 4 core elements:

  1. Start
  2. Technique improvement
  3. Speed improvement
  4. Finish

Yes it’s as simple as that. You need to be able to get the boat from stationary up to race pace; you need to have some way to improve your technique; some way to go faster, and a finishing sprint.

How you string these together is where your race experience comes in. The degree of sophistication of each depends on your skill, your personal preferences and whether you are a longstanding or new crew. Because some take more practice than others and you NEVER want to do something different in a race. No. NEVER. Because you’ll likely mess it up. So don’t risk your race result.

head race rowing, masters rowing, mens rowing four

Writing a detailed race plan

Let’s figure out some options for each of your 4 elements of your plan. For each of these, choose the version which you think works best for you. Practice them all (at least 3 times) before you select one. There are no wrong answers – your choice is about the one that WORKS. And your skill at executing now may be different next month or next year… so your choice is not fixed for ever. Be open to new things as an athlete. It helps build your flexibility and adaptability.

  • Start – Do you prefer a standing or rolling (flying) start? And what sequence of strokes gets you up to race pace (rate and speed) the best? Some like to wind to over race rate and then come down onto the race rating you choose. Work out how rapidly you can raise pressure and rate – how many strokes does it take? Do you need 200 meters or can you do it in 6 strokes? How good is your cox at judging distance before the start line? Because you want to be at pace as you pass the start line…. Ideally not more than 2 strokes before and certainly not after the start of a head race – that’s slowing your total time.
  • Technique improvement – We all come off our technical pattern from time to time when we are tired. What are the top 3 technical things which improve your boat speed? Work this out with a speed meter – could be squaring early, power through mid-drive or a better rhythm and relaxation. Whatever it is, practice how to get it back fast. Practice it together as a crew. Can you get it back in 1 stroke? Or does it take 3 or more? What words summarise what you are seeking? Choose one single phrase which has meaning for you all. It should be snappy so your bow man or cox can say it fast and you can execute it quickly (not losing time over many strokes while having a long-winded explanation). Pick those 3 technique improvements and practice getting the technique back when you lose it. Your goal is to get the rowing stroke pattern back 1 stroke after it’s called. And if you’re in a single scull you can still make those calls in your mind – I find this very helpful when racing – it makes me more decisive to think I have a cox in my head telling me what to do and when.
  • Speed improvement – A well-drilled crew will have speed lags through a race – when the rudder comes on, when someone has a poor stroke or when your technique drifts off the pattern. Getting a push or a power move in will help maintain your speed. Your goal for a head race is to maintain a robust average speed – try to stay close to your mean and not go a lot faster or a lot slower – it’s most efficient like this. And so when the speed drops on your meter – call a push. When approaching a corner have a push to improve speed before you have to steer and another push when you’ve finished steering and are straight again. Also use your pushes to attack landmarks like bridges or another crew nearby and you are overtaking or being overtaken. Whatever your push is (10, 15 or 20 strokes long) you can make it more effective by doing a technique improvement first for 3 strokes and then following with the power push call. A skillful crew doesn’t slack off after the push ends – they maintain the new boat speed for as long as they can.
  • Finish – Sprinting for the line takes judgement – how high can you rate? Normally your boat moves one boat length per stroke (further for small boats) and so taking more strokes per minute moves you faster. How high can you rate before losing speed and technique? How long can you maintain a higher boat speed and rate before your technique or fitness fails? My experience is that most crews under-estimate their ability to sprint. If you think you can sprint the last 500 meters – I challenge you to attack your finish 200 meters earlier than you think you should – see if you can last the course. If you can do that, in the next race try going earlier by another 200 meters. You need to find out where you fail in order to judge what’s best. Ideally your final stroke is the worst one of the race as you cross the line. Then you know you couldn’t have raced harder or faster.

Playing it safe versus taking risks

In the description of the finish above I explain the type of risk that you may need to take while doing a head race. You risk running out of energy and power before the finish line by sprinting early. If you don’t take risks, you’ll never do your best race. Your risks can be small and incremental – like choosing to rate a half point higher in the mid-race than you think you want to. Or adding in a push when you sense mental capacity is getting tired in the third quarter. I hope that you are pleasantly surprised by your performance. 

But if your risk doesn’t work out, you need a strategy to get back on track and to last the distance. One way to do this is to practice making a strong rhythm at a rate one point below your target race rate. Can you move the boat well at that rate? If yes, then try taking the rate and power up again after re-establishing the rhythm. 

Write out your race plan

Look at the map of your race course, divide it up by distance, time, landmarks or all three and then write out long hand down a page what race plan you intend doing. Here’s an example


250 meters hit the race rate and rhythm

Push 10 into 500 meters

Technique 10 – catches

Push 10 into first corner

Push 10 out of the corner

Etc .. you get the idea. This framework allows the whole crew to understand the logic behind each move. Pushes and technique interspersed with the distance / time / landmarks. 

Plan variations during the race can happen based on what is actually happening around you. This is where your cox or caller needs to be trusted to judge a situation and select the response which will best advantage your crew. If there’s a crew up ahead which you can overtake, don’t wait for the corner to make your push, go for them early – tell the crew the distance from the crew in front (4 lengths, 2 lengths, overlap) and use that focus to maintain higher average speed. When overtaking, never stop pushing after you are past them, you MUST move away from that crew to prevent them sensing they could attack back and overtake you. If being overtaken, use your pushes to stay in front of them. If you are steering, leave moving out of their way until the last possible moment and then move gradually so you don’t upset the rhythm in your boat. Cut back in behind them at the earliest possible moment. And when you can see the crew behind, focus on your boat rhythm – too often crew members look at the other boat and end up rowing in their rhythm – which makes your boat slow down.

And so you now have all the techniques you need to build a robust race plan, you know how to adjust it based on different head race events of differing distance and also what to do when racing to adjust your plan to take advantage of situations. Now all you need to do is to practice those moves, agree your calls and enter a race.

Rowing friends in other places

You might have noticed in last month’s newsletter a photograph of me with my new friends from Piermont Rowing Club on the Hudson River in New York. Rebecca has prevailed on me to write a bit more about my experience.

We have family – including a grand daughter – who have lived in New York City for some years, so we have become regular visitors. Over the years made some rowing friends associated with the Traditional Small Craft Association in Connecticut. One summer with my friend Bill from there I rowed the Blackburn Challenge, a 26 mile ocean race around Cape Ann in Massachusetts, in a fixed seat double. Another summer he and I built a fixed seat single, then (with another boat) did a rowing camping cruise in the Adirondack Mountains, Saint Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain. Good times.

Now I’m a Masters rower. On previous trips I have contacted clubs directly to ask if they host guest rowers, with little success. This time I posted on Masters Rowing International Facebook group where I got half a dozen replies and discovered, curiously, that very little rowing occurs in New York City. It was people from clubs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York who responded. 

Converting a response into an outing proved to be something of a challenge. Partly because my plans depended on friends and family’s plans; partly because rowing clubs are often hard to get to. They can be out of the way and not close to public transport, and rowing tends to happen early in the day, or late. Lacking local knowledge and a car it was hard to work out how to get there. 

Two people came to the rescue. The first was Bill who now lives in Delaware. He drove me 30 minutes to the Wilmington Rowing Center, just across the border in Pennsylvania. He generously (and patiently) waited through the two-hour process of going for a row in one of three eights. The second was my new friend Vince from the Piermont Rowing Club who told me the easy way to travel by train, then he drove across the Hudson to Tarrytown to meet me, and dropped me back at the end.

The row, Wilmington RC

I learned this about being a host: somebody at the host club needs to be persistent, responsive, and helpful. At Wilmington it was Karen Walsh who responded enthusiastically, offered opportunities and made it happen; Vince performed same role at Piermont, in addition to the taxi service.  It made me think about how we can better host visiting rowers who come to Petone Rowing Club.

Being around different rowing clubs is always interesting, more so when they are in a different country. Both the clubs I visited were Masters clubs, and at Wilmington they ran two school programs as revenue earners. People with whom I rowed were at various places around the middle of the continuum between dedicated racer and enthusiastic explorer.  At both clubs the people were lovely, enthusiastic and welcoming. Also curious about rowing in New Zealand and surprised that we row all year.  Both clubs use the terms ‘port’ and ’starboard’, which is a long-term boatie, makes more sense than the terms we commonly use.  At Piermont were delighted to note that, in common with Petone PC, their initials are PRC and colour is fluoro yellow.  A difference is that they eliminate the issues of looking after an elderly boathouse by not having one!

It was also great to row on different (and famous) water. The Christiania River at Wilmington wound for 10 km through the city and beyond, starting amongst derelict factories and railway bridges, ending in some marvellous marsh country with birdlife on one side, Interstate on the other.  The Hudson River is 3 miles across with the Mario Cuomo bridge dominating the scene, it is tidal, and as someone pointed out, has been used for navigation for maybe 10,000 years.

I’m wondering how many other New Zealand Masters rowers have had experiences of rowing informally and other countries. It would be great to hear some more stories in this newsletter.

Nga mihi

John Hitchcock, Petone Rowing Club