It’s long been accepted that rowing in the UK bifurcates. There are those who want to pursue high-performance sport and rowing more than caters for them, with a racing calendar and community geared towards the development of elite athletes. Rowing, after all, is a sport that demands so much to achieve even the base level of fitness required to be competitive. Then are those who partake in the sport from a recreational standpoint – one or two sessions a week but with no real direction or focus to drive meaningful growth.
So the question remains – how do you get involved in rowing if you don’t have the time or energy to commit to ten-plus sessions a week but also want to feel more involved than simply pootling about on a river a few times a month? Until very recently, it was a question that did not have a compelling answer for the thousands of people who have been deterred from pursuing rowing as a result of its strange polarisation. With the introduction of Row Active, a Learn-To-Row and recreational course provider in the heart of the Thames Valley that represents the brainchild of two former junior internationals, that gap suddenly looks like a bridgeable one. Here at RowSUP, our ethos is simple – to promote the growth of rowing across all age and ability groups. So naturally, the introduction of Row Active piqued our interest.
Row Active was co-founded by Andy Joel and Patrick Tackney, who are both Windsor Boys School Boat Club alumni and former high-performance athletes in their own right. The company was set up to offer a range of sessions designed to get complete beginners rowing in their own time and style. The course is not necessarily aimed at children – any age group can get involved and this silo of enthusiasm could prove instrumental to driving recreational rowing in the UK.
“We set up the business about six months ago to try and create real opportunities for beginner and recreational rowers in our region,” explained Andy. “We’re not trying to appeal to competitive athletes who train multiple times a week, but the basic idea is to open up rowing to a wider cross-section of the community”.
As Andy explained, he and Patrick had identified that unlike other water sports such as kayaking or canoeing, there was no way to turn up on a riverbank and simply rent a boat to paddle around in and discover the sport. This led to the inception of Row Active and conversations with Oarsport who are the UK distributor of RowSUP created by WinTech Racing.
“We realised pretty quickly that if you put a complete novice in a racing single, it’s going to cause problems,” said Andy. “That was when WinTech came onto the scene with the RowSUP. It’s wider and flatter which creates so much more stability. For what we’re doing it is absolutely perfect”.
The missing component for a successful recreational rowing program, and perhaps the factor that has driven so many from the sport at an early stage, is the constant peril of capsizing the boat and embracing cold English rivers and lakes at very close quarters. The RowSUP allows anyone to practice rowing in a safe environment without the constant worry of capsizing. The RowSUP also the logistical advantage of being inflatable and much more easily transported from place to place.
The level of interest in Row Active took both Andy and Patrick by surprise. Andy works two other jobs and initially began this as a side-business born of a genuine passion to better the sport. After only three months, Row Active has welcomed over 70 people. “My experience of rowing clubs, and particularly the beginner sections, is that they’re often not very well-resourced,” said Andy. “Our vision is and was to professionalise that aspect of the sport and ensure there is service and support for people who simply want to enjoy being in a boat on one of our beautiful rivers or lakes”.
Longer-term, Andy believes the model could be scaled to a franchise operation where various Row Active centres are set up around the country. “At the moment, we cover about 15km around Marlow which is approximately 800,000 people,” explained Andy. “Even if you just move up the road to Oxford, you have access to a million more. I do believe there is a huge market for river activities and it’s not even necessarily the people who know they want to become rowers. Our business is set up to give beginners a taste with less commitment than joining a rowing club in the first instance”.
Oarsport have worked hard to support Row Active, a relationship that first began when Andy and Patrick were at school where Oarsport supplied WinTech Racing shells for them to race in. “We’ve built up a really good rapport with Jack and Andrew over the years and they were hugely keen to not only help us find the right solution in terms of a boat but also to support in the growth of Row Active” said Andy.
We at RowSUP believe in the power of rowing for all and the development of Row Active is one mission we’re excited to continue supporting.
Interested in the RowSUP?
Please contact us to learn more about using the RowSUP for learn-to-row and recreational sessions in your club.