Formed in 1868, Hastings Rowing Club may not be quite the oldest sporting institution in town  –  some form of cricket was being played by the Priory Club at the Central Cricket Ground from 1864  –  but it can legitimately claim to compete on the oldest sporting terrain. It’s called the sea. 

At the London Olympics in 2012 Britain won 65 medals overall, 35 of them in what were jokingly classified as “sitting down sports”  –  cycling, equestrianism, canoeing, sailing and rowing. There were similar successes in Rio four years later. Is there something in the British air, or water, that makes us stand up tallest while keeping our bums seated?

Joking apart, what’s common to these sports is how physically tough they are. None more so than rowing, which requires a blend of strength, cardiovascular capacity and rhythmic discipline to fuel a performance of skill and endurance. But there’s a further uniting factor for each of the water sports: the contest is as much with natural elements as with any human competitor. Coastal rowers, which is what members of the Hastings Rowing Club call themselves as they propel their boats along the shoreline of the Channel, have to adapt to the size and shape of waves, to the ebb and flow of tides, to wind direction and strength. The sea is never quite the same from one day to the next.

Quite often in the Channel it makes for no contest at all. Last weekend the club should have been gearing up for its annual regatta on 18th May –  see below. But with the winds of Storm Hannah blowing fiercely above, and ‘white horses’ dancing merrily across the deep, there was clearly no prospect of any embarkations.

Instead, the president, Paul Knight, showed me round the club’s cavernous quarters beneath the promenade: around 2,000 square metres of concrete basement that house boats for single sculls, pairs and fours, plus paddle-boards, kayaks and canoes. There are only around 12  active rowers in the club; to keep going, it has diversified in recent years to accommodate these other forms of water sport, which bring in more families, juniors, and people who like being out on the water but prefer to let the tide and waves do more of the work. There’s also a gym with weights and a table-tennis table. 

The club relies entirely on membership fees, fund raising, sponsorship and willing volunteers. It has received lottery funding in the past to purchase new boats and other equipment. But for a long time it has been something of a struggle to attract new members and keep financially afloat.


Regatta on 18th May

Sea conditions permitting, the Hastings Rowing Club will hold its annual coastal regatta on Saturday 18th May. Fours, pairs and single scullers from around 12 clubs along the Kent and Sussex coast from Herne Bay to Southsea will compete on a course starting from opposite the clubhouse on the seafront (by the Source Park) to a series of buoys near the harbour arm and back. 

There will be over 20 races in all, including for ‘masters’ (over 40s), ‘veterans’ (over 50s) and ladies crews, starting from 10.30 am.


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