Coastal Cool: how an Australian rower has helped build coastal rowing around the world
As we count down to the World Rowing Coastal Championships in October in Canada, we are reaching out to coastal competitors from around the world to explain to us what makes coastal rowing so special.
James Cowley has literally travelled the world, promoting coastal rowing, including in the Maldives.
We recently had the pleasure of a question and answer session with James:
Q: What is your background in rowing?
I rowed at school and then for Sydney Rowing Club. I trialed for the Australian under-23 national team in early 2000s and just missed out. I have rowed at the Henley Royal Regatta on three occasions making the semis each time. I am currently living in Hobart Tasmania and training for the Australian Masters National Championships.
Q: How did you get into coastal rowing?
I got into coastal rowing through a friend, David (CD) Riches. CD runs Westminster School Boat Club, which purchased a coastal quad in 2006 for beginner rowers. The same year, the Guernsey Rowing Club hosted the inaugural World Rowing Coastal Challenge* in which CD and I competed as a double. We both enjoyed the different racing format: longer races with buoy turns which added a new dimension to the sport. From there we combined our still-water training with time in the coastal boat and competed in the next three WRCC events.
Q: How did you grow the sport in the Maldives?
In 2009, Guin Batten asked me if I would be interested in travelling to the Maldives as a volunteer to help establish the Maldivian Rowing Association.
Guin, who won an Olympic Silver medal at the Sydney Games, went to school with the then president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. They were both eager to give young women more of a voice in society. Rowing was seen as a way to empower young women with more confidence on the water.
From an organizational standpoint, establishing the Maldivian Rowing Association was the easy part, as I was supported very well by FISA and the Maldivian Olympic committee. However, the practicalities of rowing in a remote part of the world with limited resources was a challenge.
Safety was the major issue as many of the girls could not swim. So we did swimming lessons each morning before rowing. We used a coastal single that Guin left after she rowed 60kms across the Zero Degree channel to promote rowing in the region.
We eventually got two coastal quads from the UK and ran some rowing workshops around the atoll I was based on. I had both young men and women training there most days, as well as school visits to surrounding islands as we worked to promote this new sport.
During my time in the Maldives, around 60 kids – evenly split between boys and girls – tried rowing. Many factors made it challenging, including the simple fact of geography that made it difficult just getting the boats to the people.
Since my time with the program, other coaches have travelled to the Maldives to establish rowing in different parts of the country.
Q: For Canadians, who may not have seen a coastal race, what is the appeal?
The appeal is “having a go”. Stable boats and bit of bash and barge. If you can row, I would say get into it!
Q: Where do you see coastal rowing going in the next ten years?
When I raced last year it was 10 years since my last WRCC. It had more entrants, seemed far more professional – basically bigger and better. In the next ten years it could be massive. It’s a sport that is not that hard to get into if you have a rowing background and once more people make the connection, I feel it will take off.
* Editor’s note: after the inaugural 2006 event, the WRC Challenge changed to WRC Championships.