John Laurenson |

Summer racing for all

If you’re looking for some relaxed racing over the summer then John Laurenson from Junior Rowing News reflects on regattas with something for everyone

Although the highlights of many people’s racing calendar are the likes of National Schools’ Regatta, BUCS Regatta, Henley Women’s, and Henley Royal, there are a multitude of other events across the country throughout the summer months to entertain ourselves with. These local regattas provide a fantastic opportunity for some fierce racing – usually over 1,000m or less – and a chance for clubs and rowers to socialise as well.

The smaller events are typically entered by juniors and masters, giving them a family-friendly feel. The atmosphere at such events is one of no-holds-barred competition and these events are fantastic for getting new rowers into the sport to race with no pressure on results.

Regattas such as Peterborough, St Neots and Sudbury are a favourite for rowers in the south. Further north, the North of England Sprint Regatta at Hollingworth Lake, near Rochdale, is at the beginning of September and always attracts plenty of entries.

Peterborough takes place on the local rowing lake, providing the opportunity for multi-lane racing over the shorter distance, with crews going hell-for-leather down the course. St Neots is raced on the River Great Ouse with a match racing format, as is Sudbury, which is raced on the narrow River Stour. As weekend-long events, they are famous not only for the regattas themselves but also for the festivities in the evenings after racing is finished.

This year, Peterborough Summer Regatta is not taking place, but happily St Neots did on 24-25 July with the 140th Sudbury International Regatta scheduled for Saturday 7 August. While, on a 500m straight buoyed course, the North of England Sprint Rowing Championships is on 4 September.

“It’s an ideal place to start racing, because it’s such a safe and friendly environment”

We spoke to Andrew Blit, a Sudbury member who umpires and commentates around the region, to gain a deeper understanding of what makes Sudbury Regatta, in particular, so unique.

“If we go back to 2019, when we were in full flower, I would suggest that the bucolic summer regattas were well known, outside of the Henley Royal Bubble,” Andrew says. “I think it’s so important that juniors and young adults in particular can see outside of the 2,000m, multi-lane regatta box.

“It’s a different style of racing where you can race as intensely as you like, but without the pressure.

“It’s almost a deliberate throwback to the type of event that would have been run in the early 20th century. We have a jazz band, a hog roast, everyone sits on straw bales. What is not to like?”

In something of a departure from many of the top-level races, these summer events cater for every rower, as Andrew describes.

“We offer and run events from the youngest juniors from the oldest master: I once scheduled a grandson and grandfather in consecutive races!

“We even run parent and child events, in which Julia Lindsay [2021 Oxford Blue] won in 2019 – she and her daughter were rather good, I wouldn’t race them if I were you…”

But it’s not just for those who have been around the block and are looking to take a step back from the sharp edge of racing; as Andrew suggests: “It’s an ideal place to start racing, because it’s such a safe and friendly environment.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Adam Gill, the entries secretary for Staines Regatta, who reveals: “The umpires tend to be more lenient; it’s all about creating that atmosphere of fun racing.”

Held last month, Staines Regatta takes place on the Thames over 500m. With an absence of high-performance crews competing, there is an emphasis on fun, with no pressure on the results. In recent years the organising committee has decided to streamline the regatta to broaden its appeal and provide it with a unique identity.

Adam explains: “I started doing Staines entries about 18 years ago, and it was in decline at that point. But we started to build it up again, for example by dropping eights, and focusing on the events that people wanted to enter.”

Over half of the entries at Staines each year come from juniors, with about a quarter being masters and a quarter are seniors, who dive into pot-hunting over the summer. Although there are lots of clubs local to Staines, clubs from further afield also make the trip with crews from Bristol, Doncaster, and other places besides the typical Thames-based clubs often on the books. A Danish club, who are twinned with Staines, even make the trip from time to time.

Other regattas of a similar nature on the horizon include Gloucester Juniors & Masters Regatta, Ross Regatta in August and Stratford Upon Avon Junior Sprint Regatta in September, with various others currently in the planning stages.

So, if you’re looking for some relaxed events to enjoy this summer, check out the racing calendar on British Rowing’s website and get your club down to compete.

These smaller, more local regattas represent what rowing is all about. Competitive by nature, but also friendly, and allowing everyone to compete, regardless of ability. Yes, the likes of Henley Royal Regatta are fantastic for showcasing our sport at the highest level, but going to a regatta such as Sudbury will convey a much better idea of the potential our sport has to be as a ‘sport for all’.

Photo: Simon Way