Mahe Drysdale’s first year of rowing


I coached the crew Mahe was in at the West End Rowing Club the year he started rowing in 1998.  And this memoir is based on my recollections.

by Craig Allely 

Mahe Drysdale began rowing in 1998 at the West End Rowing Club in Auckland New Zealand

Mahe Drysdale sculling Mahe Drysdale sculls with oars buried deep. Photo Credit: HPSNZ

First as a Novice oarsman at the Easter Tournament for a multisport event in which rowing is one of the events The West Rowing Club assisted Auckland University Rowers as a training venue and supplied boats and coaching for novice University rowers.

After this event Mahe became part of the West End Novice eight for the New Zealand 1998/1999 season. The composition of the crew was quite varied with ages from 28 to 14 we had 9 people in total.  Occupations were students, architects, plumbers, carpenters, clerks and two were married.

Their combined sporting history was varied, a boxing champion, two were rugby players at a high level; one had played at the World Cup for Hong Kong, one was a gym junkie and multisport competitor.

Initially I was co-opted as co-coach to assist, but shortly after beginning the original coach Win Wrathall had to stop due to ill health, so I carried on solo.

I was aware that no one had asked the crew what they wanted to do that season, anyway I asked the question.

Do you want to go to the New Zealand Championships a unanimous answer YES. 

As a coach I carried a bit of paranoia from previous coaching when crew members were unable to complete a full season.

A proposal I put to the crew was that we should train as a nine man unit and the ninth man would row in the best four.

(The crew also competed in Novice Coxed Four events).  This was later amended to the ninth man rowing in the eight.

The Number one four was much faster than the number two four and during the season was winning the event or in second place most of the time.  So I did not want to disrupt their progress with a crew change to accomodate the original plan

Anyway from the start of the season the crew were quite successful winning their events both eight and four events . The New Zealand regatta season runs from November to March with a couple weeks lull around Christmas / New Year .

Mahe left our ranks temporarily around early December to go on a pre-arranged holiday with his family, we were successful at the last pre-Christmas regatta without his physical presence at over 2 metres and about 93 kilos (even then definitely the biggest man in the crew). 

In the New Year after a break we began training again with Mahe.  Our closest rivals, the Hamilton crew, had been hard at work training over Christmas and New Year.  They were a younger crew 17-18 year olds who were a more balanced unit, learned quickly and made rapid gains.

At our next encounter the Rotorua Regatta they turned the tables on the West End crew winning both the Eight and Novice four events.  This continued for the rest of the season until the North Island Championships when the Hamilton crew did not enter and decided to take a break until the Nationals two weeks later.

At the North Island Champs the West End boys were decisive winners in their events, it was a good reward for their perseverance and application.

During the season the last 3 weeks of training were carried out at Mercer on the Waikato River 75 kilometres from the West End Rowing Club on the Auckland Harbour.  This was a big effort from all as it involved a round trip including training of 3 and a half hours a day.

We carried on to the Nationals it was pretty much a back to back regatta from the North Island Championships.

After 11 races over 7 days the final result was fourth in the Eight, and a Fourth and a Sixth place in the Four.

Overall a bit of disappointment. Higher expectations were not met.

What does the coach think?

Well would not race as much in the end of the season.  But the crew members were very competitive, the number two four especially, maybe they should been stood down, but in the end it’s their rowing not mine.

What did I give Mahe?

A taste for the sport, well he is still at it after 18 years!

And the other crew members?  Well three of them rowed for several more years.

So that’s Mahe’s first year of Rowing.


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