‘It’s incredible for a rowing venue – there is so much atmosphere’

On Saturday 7 May, the Welsh village of Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire welcomed Olympians and club rowers to the Welsh Rowing Beach Sprints Championships

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Podium winners in the women's solo category (James Lee)

Competition was high at last weekend’s Welsh Rowing Beach Sprints Championships with double Olympic champion Helen Glover and London 2012 Olympian Charles Cousins taking gold in their solo events before teaming up to win the mixed double sculls.

Former Oxford University rower Clare Jamison collected silver in the women’s solo, pairing with Home International rower Gregor Maxwell in the mixed double sculls.

We talked to Helen and Clare about the weekend’s racing and shared their thoughts on Saundersfoot, the setting for the World Rowing Coastal Championships and Beach Sprint Finals this October.

Why coastal rowing? 

Helen: I’m a big fan of trying new sports and, after Rio, I tried a marathon and triathlon, kayaking and climbing – and coastal rowing seems like another really exciting sport to try.

I got into it purely because Tom Pattichis [GB Rowing Team’s Olympic Pathway Manager] sent an email to all of the ex rowers! In looking to build the sport, British Rowing is looking to draw on rowers from lots of different rowing backgrounds and I thought it would be a great chance to support a sport in its growing phase.

Living by the sea, I’ve always been drawn to the coast and I’ve always felt very at home getting out on it, whether it’s in a kayak, a rowing boat or out for a swim.

“The best bit was the feeling you get when you absolutely nail a turn”

Clare: I learnt to row whilst at Oxford University, predominantly rowing in river eights for the Boat Race. I moved back to Poole in Dorset and discovered coastal rowing and learnt how to scull, thanks to Bob Cottell at the Coastal Rowing Centre in Studland.

I competed at the British Rowing Offshore Championships in Exmouth last summer, where I first had a go at beach sprints and got involved with the GB development squad. I went to the World Rowing Offshore Championships in Portugal last September – it was all a very steep learning curve, but I’m having a great time!

It has been fantastic to discover coastal sculling. There is always so much going on out on the water compared to flat-water rowing – navigating wind, waves, tides, and, particularly in endurance races, trying to navigate the course and avoid boat clashes and pile-ups. As well as magical moments of rowing alongside seals and dolphins!

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What did you enjoy the most about the weekend?

Clare: There are only a few beach sprint events, so it was great to be able to compete in a knock-out event. GB Trials so far this year have been solo time trials at Caversham on the flat water, so it was great to apply what we have learnt there to a dynamic environment (even though it was pretty flat this weekend) and in the side-by-side, knock-out format – as well as racing in doubles as well.

It was also great to see the rest of the development team and to all work together, especially the super boat handlers – a shout out to Sarah, Lucy and Ryan!

“Definitely get down and have a go – it’s a real feel-good sport”

How did you find coastal rowing – and how does it compare with flat-water rowing? 

Helen: The technique of rowing on the sea wasn’t too different – however, as an event it’s over in two or three minutes; it felt very fast, furious and really power-driven, so I think I need to work on my sprints!

The best bit was the feeling you get when you absolutely nail a turn and know that you just have a straight line to do, back to the beach. The worst bit was when it all goes wrong, and you end up zigzagging the long route!

Clare – how did it feel to see Helen on the start line in your one-on-one final?

Clare: Fortunately (or unfortunately), the final was straight after my mixed doubles semi-finals, so I didn’t have much time to catch my breath and think about it! But, overall, it was pretty exciting – a fantastic opportunity and a race to remember.

I would never have imagined it this time last year. We had the same times in the last trials at Caversham, so it was pretty exciting to see how that would play out head-to-head.

It’s also fantastic that Olympians are coming to coastal rowing and beach sprints – raising the bar and increasing the sport’s growth and popularity.

Helen – how was the racing in the doubles with Charles Cousins

Helen: It was so fun to be racing with Charles – something we never got to do on the GB Rowing Team was to mix between the men and women. I kind of felt like I had a free ride!

I was making the calls, so I felt a bit of pressure. I know the races can be won or lost with the steering, but we didn’t make too many mistakes. The doubles were a real highlight – I have always loved working with somebody else and that aspect of rowing is something I love.

“The highlight for them was definitely the ice creams”

The World Rowing Coastal Championships and Beach Sprints Finals will be held at Saundersfoot in October – what did you think of the setting?

Helen: It’s incredible for a rowing venue – there is so much atmosphere. My three kids spent 11 hours on the beach that day and didn’t want to leave at the end!

Logan is three and the twins are two. It was the first time they’ve ever seen me race in real life – they are actually still talking about it! Although the highlight for them was definitely the ice creams.

I have to say, it wasn’t my usual midday lunch sitting having fish and chips on race day, but the passers-by and beachgoers all forming a crowd to watch the exciting races creates a real buzz.

Clare: Luckily, Welsh Rowing organised the sun on Saturday, so Saundersfoot was certainly beautiful and the good weather bought some extra spectators – let’s hope for the same at the British Rowing Offshore Championships and World Rowing Coastal and Beach Sprint Championships!

The large tidal range of the beach will be a challenge for the organisers.

What advice would you give to anyone considering trying coastal rowing / beach sprints? 

Helen: It’s so much fun with a really welcoming laid-back vibe from the people involved.

Definitely get down and have a go – it’s a real feel-good sport.

Find out more about the British Rowing Offshore and Beach Sprints Championships and World Rowing Coastal Championships and Beach Sprints Finals

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