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Rowing’s Expanding Frontier: Beach Sprints

STORY AND PHOTOS BY LIZ HINLEY

We’re taking it to the beaches as rowing introduces a new format: beach sprints!

Imagine chilling in the sun as an announcer hypes up the crowd introducing two athletes who are about to compete against each other. They take their positions at a start line on the beach until the gun goes off. They sprint to their coastal boats held by boat handlers just offshore, hop in, grab their oars, and start sprinting out to open water. They serpentine between two buoys 250 meters out, make a 180-degree turn, and take a straight shot back to the beach. Once they hit land, they sprint back to the start line to complete their race, smashing a buzzer to stop the time. 

Although the beach sprint event is relatively young, a culture is already developing since its world competition debut in Shenzhen, China in 2019. What creates more of a challenge than just a duel of sprint power is the demand the rowers need to face of navigation skills and open water adaptability. Current, wind direction, turning skills, and transition speed all account for beach sprint racing. 

There are three types of boats for beach sprints: the single, the double, and the quad. The double and the quad offer additional events by having mixed crews and same-gender crews.

SingleDoubleQuad
Minimum weight: 35 kg (77.2 lbs)Minimum weight: 60 kg (132.3 lbs)Minimum weight: 150kg (330.7 lbs)
Maximum length: 6 meters (19.7 ft)Maximum length: 7.5 meters (24.6 ft)Maximum length: 10.7 meters (35.1 ft)
Events: CW1x, CM1xEvents: CW2x, CM2x, CMix2xEvents: CMix4x

Coastal boats designed for racing are heavier in weight and shorter in length compared to flat-water boats. What may seem like a lot of weight to drive through open water, coastal boats find a momentum that allows the rowers to break through waves and take on the variety of open water conditions. Its shorter length allows for those quick turns around buoys which are especially important for the beach sprint format. The quads have a seat in the stern for a coxswain which, like flatwater racing, provide crew calls and steering control.

USRowing takes the initiative of embracing this new format by holding its first-ever trials event June 19th offering various boat classes including junior events. Nine winning boat crews earned their slots to compete in the 2021 World Rowing Beach Sprint Championship held in Portugal near the end of September. 

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