Maple Bay Rowing Club athletes take a turn at coastal rowing, a different discipline of the sport, during a fun competition last month. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

‘Free-for-all’ takes rowers to the open water

Coastal rowing a hit with Maple Bay Rowing Club members

Inspired by the World Rowing Coastal Championships, which were held in Sidney last October, the Maple Bay Rowing Club gave the sport of coastal rowing a shot last month, with positive results.

Todd Blumel, whose daughter, Margo, rows with the club, volunteered as a driver at the world championships, and thought coastal rowing looked pretty cool.

“It’s not like regular rowing,” he explained. “You can set up anywhere. It doesn’t have lanes. You just drop markers in the water.”

Coastal rowing is typically done offshore — although it could take place in any body of water — and the boats are wider and more robust to deal with harsher conditions than traditional rowing. Unlike regular rowing shells, which travel in a straight line, coastal boats are designed to turn around buoys as well.

“Coastal rowing is to rowing what mountain biking is to cycling,” said Blumel, who also likened it to ski cross versus alpine ski racing. “It’s a bit of a free-for-all.”

Because of that, boosters argue that the sport is more spectator-oriented than regular rowing. FISA, the international rowing federation, has talked with the International Olympic Committee about including coastal rowing in future Olympic Games. Coastal rowing’s versatility has helped it develop a large following.

“There are more people doing coastal rowing in Europe than regular rowing,” Blumel said.

Beyond racing, the shells can be used for touring. There is already a company renting coastal rowing boats for touring in Manitoba’s lakes, and plans are underway for a similar company based in Sidney.

The boats used at the world championships, which had to be imported from France because no one in North America manufactures them, were put up for sale after the event. Blumel managed to get some on loan and brought them to Maple Bay, where club members had the chance to try them out.

“The juniors have been using them, and we have quite a few seniors interested as well,” Blumel explained.

That led to a competition held on Dec. 8, which Blumel put together along with Richard Jones and MBRC head coach Cheryl Thibodeau in less than two weeks.

“We had the boats. We had people interested,” Blumel said.

“Why not have an event?”

Sixteen teams of two, including five from the Vic City Rowing Club, took part in the event, which combined a 3.5km doubles stage, a 2x500m singles stage, and a stage on the ergometers. Results were determined by aggregate times.

The senior men’s pair of Richard Young and Blaine Castle put together the best aggregate time of 39 minutes and 45 seconds, but the second place junior girls team of Ella Stemler and Milla Watt was just 58 seconds back. Third place went to the junior boys duo of Brighton Reid and Jackson Davidson. All of the top three teams were from the home club.

“Everybody had a blast,” Blumel said. “They want to know when the next one is.”

Coastal rowing shells are tougher and self-draining so they can operate in chop — “It’s virtually impossible to sink them,” Blumel noted — but they can be flipped, as one cold and wet rower found out on the day of the event. But by and large, it was a great time for the competitors, who embraced the free-for-all atmosphere.

“There are very few rules,” Blumel commented. “Just get out there and row. In a way, it’s getting back to what rowing started as.”

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Maple Bay Rowing Club athletes take a turn at coastal rowing, a different discipline of the sport, during a fun competition last month. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

A doubles boat returns to shore during the Maple Bay Rowing Club’s coastal rowing event last month. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

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