Coastal rowing brings Olympic champ out of retirement

The idea of getting a shot at the Commonwealth Games was enough to get Tokyo gold medallist Michael Brake back in a rowing boat.

"I thought why would I not want to try this, it's exciting, it's new, it's still really a growing sport as more and more people are becoming aware of it more and more people are coming and trying it and enjoying it."

Brake stepped away from rowing after the Tokyo Olympics, where he was part of the successful Kiwi men's eight programme.

The beach-based discipline was last year added to the 2026 Commonwealth Games programme for Victoria, Australia and it's expected to be made an Olympic event from 2028.

"There will be a serious push from New Zealand to get people to the Commonwealth Games, whether I'm part of that I'm not sure at this point," Brake said, although he's definitely testing the waters.

Coastal rowing is a long way from the calm of a two-kilometre flatwater course on Lake Karapiro. In the beach sprint event competitors start and finish the 500m race with a beach run and have to contend with waves and navigation when rowing out and back to a buoy.

Brake is just one of a number of New Zealand's elite rowers taking part in the Coastal Rowing Beach Sprint National Championships at Nelson's Tahunanui Beach, the third time the event has been held in the country.

For single sculls Tokyo gold medallist Emma Twigg, coastal rowing offers a bit of training variety.

'It's really unpredictable'

"I like to liken it to the BMX of rowing, it's really unpredictable, you never know if you're going to win if you're ahead halfway through the race and it's just an exciting sport."

Twigg is less sure if she'll feature in any Commonwealth Games team.

"I'm probably reaching the end of my rowing days in terms of my age but it's a fascinating sport and I’d love to be involved in some capacity into the future."

Twigg was part of last year's New Zealand team who competed at the World Championships but says flatwater rowing is still her priority.

"This is a nice supplementary thing and it adds balance to my training programme, being on a beach somewhere around the world is pretty awesome and it's got a great future in terms of it being an Olympic sport."

Those involved in growing the sport here hope it'll bring in new competitors and keep the sport fresh and relevant.

Sally Knight, who runs the nationals, said "learning to row in a coastal boat is very doable and makes rowing accessible for everybody".

And considering the plentiful coastline we have, and the established strength in traditional rowing, this could be another sport Kiwis succeed in on the world stage.


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