Rowing with Heritage

Rowing with Heritage

One of the oldest sports in the world winds its way through the Kowie River next month as the country’s top young rowers compete for the chance to be hailed as champions of the South African Schools Boat Race.

What began as a method of transport and mode of warfare eventually developed into an Olympic sport (the competitive nature of the activity can sometimes still be classified as ‘warfare’!), with rowers taking up oars around the world.

Competitive rowing began as friendly wager races between ferry and water-taxi riders on London’s River Thames. When these began attracting great crowds in the 19th century, rowers started holding more professional competitions on rivers across Great Britain. The oldest race in existence (Doggett’s Coat and Badge, from London Bridge to Chelsea) was started as far back as 1715. Over a century and a half later, rowing was introduced to the original Olympic Games in Athens – although women’s rowing was only introduced to the Games in 1976.

With this established history behind it, the South African Schools Boat Race models itself on the famous annual race between Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. Boys in eight-oared boats compete over six kilometres, while girls in four-oared boats row across four kilometres of the serpentine Kowie River filled with tactical challenges such as sandbanks, sudden corners, strong tides and sometimes windy conditions. It’s no wonder many call this the toughest race in the country.

The annual event kicks off with a jam-packed week of practice rows, with the much-anticipated races taking place over the weekend, leading into Sunday’s exciting finals. The boys will be hoping to beat last year’s winners King Edward, who finished in a time of 24:47:10, while St Andrew’s School for Girls will be looking to hold onto its 2010 title, won in a time of 15:28:22.

With supporters lining the river and finding every comfortable nook and cranny to chill on for the day, there’s enough noise to make each member of every team feel like a rowing celebrity. It’s a weekend (or week, for those keen to cheer on the practice sessions) filled with team spirit and friendly rivalry, in which Port Alfred becomes a lively water playground.

In between the sun-soaked noisy days, you’ll be happy to return to Green Fountain Farm to regain your energy amid the resort’s tranquil space – ready for the next day of shouting and screaming for your favourites.

Join in the fun from 2-4 December 2011.