Surf Boat Rowing
Take a 180kg fibre-glass Surfboat with four rowers and a “Sweep” or Steersman standing at the stern..find a nice spot of beach with some surf…paddle out into the briny blue…turn round and then takeoff on a wave back into the beach…effectively this is Surf Boat rowing in a nutshell! Add in a dash of ‘speedo’s and ‘bikinis’ and there you have it…your crew. The first Surfboat was built in 1913 for the Manly Surf Life Saving Club as a means to rescue drifting bathers – today its one of the most exciting sports you can take part in on the beach! And if there are bikini’s and the beach involved..you can bet the Sisterhood are there too!
Amy Sharpe, (surf boat goddess in the making) updates on the latest ‘Surf Carnival’ at Watergate Bay, Cornwall on the 12th July:
Having now been firmly bitten by the surf boat bug, a five hour drive down from London for three 8 minute races seemed completely acceptable! We arrived into Watergate Bay, the clouds were overcast, the sea was rolling and the wind was howling…but hey..this was Britain and this was the summer – so what else did we expect!
The Molesey Maurader boys were the first out with their crew to introduce two river rowers (ex-GB Rowers I might add) to the sport that sorts the men from the boys..and they were going well…until they caught a wave on the way back towards the beach and flipped the boat, unceremoniously dumping all of them into the sea! Soooo – the smell of fear was tangible when it was our turn for a little ‘practice’! Coach Steveo (true-blue-dinky-di Aus) was our sweep and having been a surfer all his life knew exactly how to catch the waves…on a surf board…its waaaay different in a 200kg boat! So it was a big step up for all of us – when the waves are breaking 2ft (well it might have been 1ft – but it felt like 2 ft!) there is a whole load more requirement for ‘guts’ in order to stay on top of the waves and upright and carry on paddling when the boat picks up speed!
So Round One…ding ding…cracking start, over the tops of the breaking waves…out the back into some big swells, round the can and then paddling hard to get onto a breaking waves to take us back to the beach with minimum effort…we came second! Our best result to date!
Round Two…another great start, plenty of effort up to the can, round the can…BIG swells, catch a wave…in we go…miss the back of the wave…swerve to the left (blame the sweep) and a third..
Round Three…another cracking start…bit of nasty water getting out there…really bobbing around – back round the can…catch a super cool wave…coach mistimes it…we veer off to the left – coach shouts, gets on another wave…does the same again – then gets knocked overbaord and bails out the back – so NO sweep and NO where near the beach…awesome…we elegantly glide into the beach..but miles from our flag – so poor Rita has to run miles up the beach!
And – we made it to the final…we might have come last, but hey, we had an awesome day!
Surf Boat Rowing is such a great sport and offers everyone a quality day out…there are no ego’s (like with river rowing) as you can’t ever predict what the sea is going to chuck at you..and best of all at the end of the day you are out playing on some of the UK’s prettiest beaches…what’s not to like!
Jo Rogers tells it like it was on the 31st May 2008 at Porthcawl in Wales..
It was not without trepidation that four members of the Sisterhood packed their bikini bottoms and hoodies and headed down to Porthcawl in South Wales for the first of their Surf-boat championships – held across southern England over the summer. All former rowers, Searlo, Ames, Chewy and Jo were to experience something wholly unlike the comparatively tame business of rowing on the Thames in slender boats full of disciplined crew. Surf-rowing originates from the southern hemisphere where lifeboat teams bravely hack up 20 foot waves in a much larger vessel and haul it out into the rolling surf. Our UK version is for obvious reasons less intrepid than this: the waves by comparison were ankle-lickers, but nonetheless its a hugely physical sport, involving vaulting into the boat off the start, getting through the breakers, rowing hard to a buoy, pulling something akin to a handbreak turn and sprinting back in using the surf to propel us onto the beach. Plenty of room to score bumps, grinds, whacks and bruises in these big wet boats with huge oars and regular breakers – as we were to discover.
When the morning fog cleared, the flags along the beach signalled our start positions. But something else hoved into view too. Bottoms. Hundreds of them. Mostly bare. Surf rowing also involves the totally indecent business of pulling a wedgie in order to row with your bare butt cheeks. Anything else- cloth, sea water- results in mega chafing as you slide up and down the seat. So to add to our anxiety, and a nagging cold from the chill that was blowing in from the sea, we had the indignity of raising our bum cheeks to the skies. Our first start was nothing short of a joke. As the whistle blew, the bowsiders made it into their seats, but Jo overshot and landed in the hull with her feet in the air, and Searlo appeared to miss the boat altogether and disappeared completely into the freezing grey sea. She re-surfaced a moment later looking like a clubbed seal. Despite her heart stopping dunking she finally made it into the boat, and despite the slow handclapping from the shore, we gingerly found our pace, pausing only from our oars to clock our coach’s face. Or rather to clock his head in his hands. Making it out over the waves- lengths behind everyone else- our power was a little thwarted by mutual hysterics. This was only furthered when we slammed towards the beach at a fast lick like Apollo re-entering the atmosphere- only we all caught crabs, pole-axing the boat 180 degrees and almost killing our bow girl. It was a tough day for Ms Searle, who looked a bit like she’d been hit a bigger iceberg than the Titanic.
But I’m pleased to report that by our second and third races, we had got into our stride. Whilst our starts remained somewhat sluggish- and wholly undignified with bruised limbs aloft- we found our pace and strength enabled us to gain on the other girl’s crews and even pip them to the post into the beach. All that beautifully choreographed training on the Thames was starting to pay off. Overtaking some of the other crews at pace and then riding the surf in and staching our oars correctly was a real thrill… and now we’ve most certainly caught the bug.
When the bruises and bumps have gone, we’ll be returning for round 2. Saunton Sands in Devon. We thought we might have blown it with our strapping aussie coach after an entry into the surfboat world worthy of a Darwin Award… But its a funny thing the sisterhood…. We’re sure he is on his way to being transfixed by the mysterious allure of these siren sisters once and for all….. Watch this space.