Taking on the Tideway head races in London

The big Tideway Heads take place next month with hundreds of crews racing on the River Thames from all corners of the UK and abroad. Keir Salter shares his top tips

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Crews at the Head of the River (c) Gerard Brown

Competing in one of the major head races on the River Thames is a rite of passage for many crews. Former Bristol University rower Keir Salter shares his three top tips for having a successful and safe race.

The second competitive race that I ever took part in was on the Tideway, at Quintin Head. The setting and conditions couldn’t have been more different from the small, but idyllic, West Country river I was used to training on! So here are some tips for taking on the Tideway for the first time.

1. Do your research

The size and speed of the Tideway is the first thing that hits you, especially during the head race season where strong winds, and even stronger currents, can churn up the water. This can make it difficult for those with less boating and coxing experience to navigate the multitude of buoys, bridges and turns that you find on the Tideway.

The best piece of advice I can give is to read up on the layout of the race you are participating in, pick out some key landmarks (usually pubs!) and do your best to learn where the strongest streams are. If done effectively, the course you take can shave precious seconds off your time.

It’s a great opportunity to spot past and present Olympians
2. Listen to the safety marshals

These volunteers will tell you exactly where to be and when, relaying any important information about the race to you. The 2014 Head of the River was eventually abandoned because of conditions, as a marshal informed our crew, leaving us a bit disappointed – but actually secretly glad that we weren’t going to be in a rowing version of The Poseidon Adventure. If the worst comes to the worst, and the race is called off, just remember that the Blue Anchor pub, by Hammersmith Bridge, does some of the best post-race food imaginable.

For more great head racing tips

Read more advice from rowers on competing in the Tideway heads here!

3. Always keep track of conditions and potential obstacles

The Thames can vary drastically in speed, depending on how much rain there has been further upstream. If you have a head or a tail wind, it can resemble a mill pond or alternatively the North Sea, depending on how lucky you are with the weather. So make sure that you’re always on the lookout for any obstacles, mainly navigation aids like posts or brightly coloured markers, and even moored boats.

All in all, though, rowing on the Tideway is a fantastic experience, especially when you have crews from all over the world rowing alongside you. It’s a great opportunity to spot past and present Olympians, though they’re usually past you by the time you realise they were even there!

The Schools’ Head takes place on 15 March, the Women’s Head on 16 March with the Head of the River on 30 March and the Vesta Veterans Head on 31 March.