US Rowing discovers us (or not)

Steve Wells

Going Coastal

October 10, 2014



 John Wik is heading up USRowing's costal rowing efforts.

During his seven-year career as a USRowing referee, John Wik has either been actively trying to keep boats in the right lanes, rowing safely and not interfering with each other, or teaching referees how to run clean races.

He has a whole new game plan now. Wik, whose official title as a member of the association’s staff is Director of Referee Programs is now in charge of what he likes to refer to as “NASCAR,” division of rowing, something more commonly called Coastal Rowing.

Beginning this spring, USRowing will begin hosting up to 10 Coastal Rowing regattas. It’s a little like the kind of racing that life guards have been doing on beaches around the world for a while, but with faster, more stream lined boats.

And it is sure to bring more excitement to the rowing community, according to Wik.

“It’s a wild sport,” Wik said. “Going out you’re allowed to touch oars, you are allowed to touch boats, and they expect it to happen, so there is not that kind of interference. It’s intense. It’s like watching NASCAR racing.”

Under direction from the USRowing Board of Directors, Wik will be heading up an effort he hopes will expand the membership base for USRowing, bring a sport that has already being raced internationally and growing in Europe and make rowing racing a little more fun to watch.

“I think our sport needs to have something a little bit more exciting going on,” he said. “If you think about it parents and spectators stand on the side or the bank or a river or race course. As the boats are coming by, they can begin to see them coming, the boats pass in front of them and then they’re gone.

“Unless you really understand the compotators that are racing and what’s happening in the race, it’s very difficult for the spectator to fully appreciate the sport itself.”

Coastal rowing, Wik said, will change that. The plan being developed will involve having two, side-by-side lanes for racing with two boats or crews racing at the same time in each lane, using either singles or “solos” as they are called in coastal rowing, or doubles.

The participants start on the beach in a standing start, run to their boats and then row out to a larger turning buoy two hundred and fifty meters away and come back. In addition the boats have to shalom through a set of three buoys. Once back on the beach, the athletes jump out of their boats and run to the finish line.

Adding to the fun are the varying conditions of weather and surf conditions with large surf being the preferred challenge.

“In coastal rowing you see boats clashing together, you see a lot of activity that with wave and weather conditions make the sport that much more difficult. And I think it’s a much more exciting part of our sport to watch.”

Coastal rowing has for the last several years been part of the FISA’s world rowing programs. The governing body of international rowing hosts a world costal rowing championship. The next one is scheduled for October 17-19 in Thessaloniki, Greece.
There is racing in three boat classes for men and women, including solos, doubles and 

Wik said he first head about coastal rowing when he learned that referees from the U.S. were going to Europe to officiate the world class coastal rowing events.
“I began to look at what world class coastal rowing is all about and I began to realize that is a whole sport developing in Europe around the concept of coastal rowing. And that got me thinking this is a direction we have to take,” he said.

“The other thing that struck me was that in the United States we have about ninety-four thousand miles of coast line and about just a little bit better than half the population of the country lives within ten miles of the coast. That’s a huge population that we are not serving in rowing that we could be serving by expanding into coastal rowing.”

The plan currently being devised by Wik for USRowing calls for the association to purchase a fleet of 10 boats, six solos and four double and the necessary equipment to run the races. USRowing will provide the officials and will seek out host clubs from rowing communities on the East and West coasts.

According to USRowing Chief Executive Officer, Glenn Merry, developing coastal rowing is not just an opportunity for rowing in the U.S. but provides opportunity to grow the sport internationally.

“Coastal rowing could be one of the most interesting new components in our sport in a long time,” Merry said. “It can bring the sport to kind of the everyman and the way that we are approaching this is to start of with a national footprint of events with relatively low barriers of participation into racing.

“I feel like it could be the opportunity for rowing to engage another group of people who aren’t part of our traditional culture yet. But it could become like a standalone in the traditional culture, like snowboarding was to alpine skiing or it could increase the popularity of rowing the way BMX has increased popularity in cycling events at the Olympics.

“Ultimately, down the road, this may turn into a future Olympic sport,” Merry said. “It’s kind of sexy, it’s kind of aggressive and fun and a little bit risk taking. It just has a different flavor to it. It doesn’t by any means replace the traditional aspects of the sport but I think it does bring new opportunity.”
The first event is intended to be held in early March in Sarasota, Fla., and a second is being discussed as part of the San Diego Crew Classic March 28-29. “I’ve been in touch with the people in Sarasota and they are very excited,” Wik said.

Wik said he hopes to be able to develop 10 sprint events and is developing a plan that would have longer races, much like head race events run off shore along a circular course four to six thousand meters long.

“I’m very excited about this,” Wik said.

To read a story and watch a video about Wik’s Delmarva Odyssey in a costal boat click here.

Click here to see FISA footage from the 2013 World Coastal Rowing Championships.

Ed Moran, ed@...