Rowing is one of those sports at which Britons are supposed to excel, because it involves sitting down and using expensive pieces of equipment like a boat or a bike or a horse.
But as a community activity, it probably struggles unfairly against its own heritage. People find it hard to see beyond lean Olympians, or posh people from Oxford and Cambridge sinking in the Thames, or the hat parade at Henley on a Pimms-drenched afternoon.
The members of Worthing Rowing Club bust these stereotypes in just about every way you haven’t yet imagined. Not all of them are lean, hardly any of them are posh and quite a few of them aren’t British.
“We are very inclusive. We have people here of all ages and different nationalities,” says club captain Zuzana as she sits alongside Zultan, Vanda and Eugeniusz. “People think rowing is just for rich people, but we have members from all walks of life.”
Most other clubs in Worthing would envy the style and the location of their clubhouse, a white deco seafront marvel neighbouring Splashpoint and Crabshack. Whenever the weather and tides allow, boats for one, two, four and eight are carried across the beach and sculled out into the English Channel.
And not just in Worthing. “We row in about thirteen regattas a year,” says vice-captain Emily. “It’s like a little family that turns into a bigger family. You get to make friends with people at the other clubs all along the south coast and up into Kent, from Southsea to Herne Bay, Folkestone, Deal and Dover.”
New members are always welcome. The club runs several ‘Learn To Row’ courses every year, and they are never short of newcomers. The age range of the new starters is remarkable: older people looking for low impact exercise, women in their 30s and 40s getting back into shape after having children, teenagers finding a new passion. It all feels every bit as open and accessible as the members claim.
Once the rowing is done and the curry supper starts, 87-year-old Bob finds himself sitting next to 16-year-old Issy. Bob has been a member for 64 years and has been captain, chair and president. “I stopped rowing ten years ago when the water started feeling too cold,” he deadpans. But he still comes to the club because he likes the atmosphere.
Issy was inspired by the Olympics. “I came to a taster session for the Team GB thing and I loved it. It feels like a real family. I’m a lot fitter than I was. My way of judging how much water was in the kettle was until my arm started shaking and now my parents have told me to stop doing that because I fill the kettle too much. I’m a lot more confident since I started rowing. I feel a lot more respected. The people here, regardless of their age, treat me as an equal. There is no status in this club.”
By Karl Allison, Worthing Community Chest
‘Learn To Row’ courses run several times each year. Details at worthingrowingclub.com
Worthing Regatta: 3-4 Aug
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