Young Petone rower sets new record

Raising the bar: Punters at Petone Working Men's Club cheer on Axel Dickinson as he gets ready for his 500m indoor rowing record attempt.
Raising the bar: Punters at Petone Working Men's Club cheer on Axel Dickinson as he gets ready for his 500m indoor rowing record attempt.

A rower who was thinking of giving up the sport at the beginning of the season has just broken an indoor record held by Olympians Mahe Drysdale and George Bridgewater.

On Tuesday night Petone Rowing Club's Axel Dickinson, 21, blitzed 500 metres on an erg (indoor rowing machine) in a lung-burning one minute, 17.5 seconds - 1.2 seconds faster than the mark set by both Drysdale and Bridgewater years ago.

Cheering him on was a packed bar at the Petone Working Men's Club, where competitors in the Australasian Police & Emergency Services Games took a break from the ergs to watch a rising star of New Zealand rowing.

Axel Dickinson
Axel Dickinson

It's the second time this month Dickinson has had reason to celebrate.  After time trials in outdoor rowing at Karapiro, on March 2 he was named in the New Zealand coxed four to travel to Trakai, Lithuania for the Under 23 World Rowing Championships, July 11-15.

It's all a far cry from how he was feeling late last year.

Dickinson, who has been with Rowing NZ's Central Rowing Performance Centre in Blenhiem since 2009, was battling problems with his sciatic nerve and other muscle strains.  ''I was contemplating quitting because I couldn't find solutions to my injuries,'' he told Hutt News ''It was holding me back, it was holding others back and it was just a really depressing place to be.

''But with the help of my coach Mark James and few other people supporting me, I've pushed through it.''

Dickinson has had to put his university studies pretty much on hold.  He works at McDonald's in Blenheim because it offers the time flexibility for his rowing training, ''and you've got to put food on the table and pay the rent''.  Now he has to raise $7,500 to make the trip to Lithuania.

The erg record attempt was part of ''putting my name out there, to try and get attention of sponsors''.

He's rapt to have made the U23 squad, after a ''very stressful'' week of time trials at Karapiro.

''I've been really on and off with university. It's cool to get something out of it. This is the start of a new mission, I guess.  I really want to show everybody in Rowing NZ that I'm a hard worker, and should be valuable to crews in the future.''

Like outdoor rowing, the most coveted erg rowing title is the 2000 metres.

''But it's still pretty cool to have [the 500m record for 19-26-year-olds], especially when it's over two Olympians.''

Drysdale and Bridgewater were a bit older than him when they set the earlier records, and were about 100kg against his 92kg, he says.  ''On the erg that can matter a bit.''

Dickinson says he'd love to chase down Drysale's 5 minute 41 seconds time for 2000m on the erg.  Dickinson's best at the longer distance is 5m57s.

''I'm quite explosive,'' he says about his indoor rowing style.  ''[Drysale and Bridgewater] are better at long distances than I am but I'm powerful at the start.''

Even 500m at speed is tough on the lungs.

''The most pain you can be in is the 2k - that's horrible.  That's hell.  But 500 still hurts when you're going absolutely balls out.''

On Tuesday night in Petone, ''it was just a matter of holding on for the last 200 because I went out really hard.  That was the plan; I just used everythying I had.''

It's not the first time Dickinson has set an erg record.  As a 14-year-old novice rower in his first year at Petone Rowing Club, he set a record in that age grade.

Proudly watching him on Tuesday was his Petone coach from his days at the local club, Greg Stothers.

''It was a fantastic effort,'' Stother says.  ''He was fading at the end but he just hung on tough.''

Sponsors willing to help Axel Dickinson get to the world championships can email him on or call 027 7516516.

Hutt News