In beautiful summer conditions on Lake Ruataniwha at the weekend, some crews from southern clubs had their first taste of big-time racing on a buoy-marked course and in held starting blocks during the jam-packed Otago Championship regatta programme.
The Wakatipu Rowing Club was at the forefront of the three southern clubs with breakthrough results in the novice and under-16 men's categories from its 23 A-final crews on Sunday.
Age-group coaches Annabel Ritchie and Mike Westenra, novices coach Andrew Jolly and under-17 girls' coach Shane Muir have all been buoyed by the interest and determination of the young athletes who have grown to 52 in number, a big jump from the 12 or so average of the past few years.
The top results for the Southern Lakes Club at the champs came in the novice category with Logan Boyd (stroke), George Dennison, Latham Jones, Reid Long, Ben Luke, Josh Tell, Will Saxon, Oliver Jolly and coxswain Henry Mathews winning the novice eight over Avon and Christchurch Boys' High crews.
Boyd, Dennison, Jones and Long also took out the novice fours, with Mathews again steering the skiff, and Saxon and Jolly placed second in the novice doubles.
Another novice double of Dylan Davy and Guy Collins placed third in the same event.
With all novice "big-boat" events being coxed (fours, quads and eights), it was no surprise that Mathews also won the coxswain's prize for the regatta.
The year 9 Wakatipu High School student coxed the novice boys to two wins and will be looking forward to steering these crews as they develop through the season.
It was not all about the Wakatipu novices as the club's more experienced age-group rowers, George Bellamy (stroke), Matt Nicholson, Daniel Halligan, Josh Speight and coxswain Nick Foley took early season honours in the under-17 boys' coxed-fours event.
This crew is following up on their discovery season last year, where two members were South Island secondary school champions and the others Maadi Cup medallists.
The club's girls also chipped in with a second place in the under-17 girls' coxed quads A-final.
Many crews can be forgiven for any early-season jitters on Lake Ruataniwha, with tight time frames and boat turnarounds forcing some crews to hustle to the start of their races.
The regatta was scheduled with four-minute breaks between races, meaning umpires and officials did not have to wait for crews with breakages or sharing boats.
Invercargill crews caught out in other events recovered to come away with wins in the boys' under-16 doubles and women's novice fours A-final, as well as gaining placings in the the boys' and girls' under-16 eights.
It was again the boys' under-16 squad led by Rowan Haveron (stroke), Dylan Milford, Thomas Elder and Scott Radka, and coxed by Tate Mulligan, that showed consistency in taking third in the A-Final of the under-16 quads.
Their fellow eight-winning crew mates Blake Green (stroke), Brodie Crooks, Scott Pulley and Riley Chilton, coxed by Tyler Donnelly, came home in fifth. A third quads combination placed 8th.
A promising result for the club was the progression of Anna-Marie Baker in the women's under-18 singles.
She placed just outside the top three and was followed home by the experienced Anna Calder in the A-final.
In the higher ranks of the regatta, Waihopai Club and open rowers continued to lead the way.
Many school-aged rowers competed in the open classification and stamped their mark on the grade, with fine wins in the women's open eight, men's club eight, men's club quad and, in a stunning effort, Scott Barnsdale won the men's open singles.
This was a satisfying early-season reward for Barnsdale, who managed to win over favoured Southern Regional Performance Centre athletes after being overlooked for inclusion in the high performance system of the RPC.
Placings were also gained in the boys' under-17 singles (Tim Yaxley), girls' under-15 doubles (Kerri-Ann Sinclair and Georgia Smith), women's open fours, men's club doubles and men's open doubles.
Waihopai Rowing Club also boasted four open-class rowers within the Southern RPC ranks, with Lisa Owen and Tessa Young winning the open doubles and quads, and the duo coming home in second and third respectively in the open singles final.
Kristen Froude placed second in the open coxless pair and Mark O'Connor did the same in the men's equivalent. O'Connor was also part of the first-placed Southern RPC open men's quads.
In the North Island, the regatta calendar turned festive at the Karapiro Christmas Regatta, where Southland Olympians Louise Ayling and Jade Uru competed alongside world under-23 gold medallist Hayden Cohen, under the New Zealand Summer Squad moniker.
The surprise result of that regatta will surely be the men's premier coxless pair, where Uru and crewmate Alex Kennedy came in second behind Olympic bronze medallist Peter Taylor, rowing in the unfamiliar role of sweep-oar, and crew mate Curtis Rapley.
Cohen finished with three second places in the premier singles, doubles and quads. Ayling placed a narrow second to the other summer squad quads selection in the premier quads race.
Local Christmas festivities include the Riverton Rowing Club hosting the Boxing Day Regatta at Riverton Harbour.
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