For many people rowing seems to be a sedate pastime enjoyed on calm, flat water or a civilised way to settle old university rivalries.
For many people rowing seems to be a sedate pastime enjoyed on calm, flat water or a civilised way to settle old university rivalries. But for the Langstone Adventure Rowers, based in Hayling Island, it’s an exciting sport full of risk and challenge.
In 2010 LAR company director, Mike Gilbert was taking part in a London to Paris rowing challenge when he ran into a storm near Herne Bay.
‘It was scary,’ says Mike. ‘It was 10pm and there were five foot high waves. The boat flipped upside down in a squall and I ended up with my leg trapped under the boat. My lifejacket had me pinned against the boat and my leg had got caught under one of the seats. I had to dive back under to get free.’
Nobody was seriously hurt in the capsizing and the team pushed on to complete their challenge but LAR trains future adventurers to be ready for anything.
‘We coach and train people to row extreme rowing events. We help to design training programmes for them and get them fit and show them how to steer and what to do if something goes wrong.
‘A lot of people want to do it for fun but other people want to raise money for charity. We have helped people raise £6.5m for charity over the past couple of years.’
In 2012 LAR helped to train a celebrity team row across the Channel for BBC Sport Relief.
‘The BBC called and asked if we could train a team including John Bishop, Freddie Flintoff, Davina McCall and Denise Lewis,’ says Mike.
‘After the first three sessions Davina said: “I’ve realised what we’ve let ourselves in for and I want Mike to cox us!”
‘The average time for a channel crossing is five hours. It took them eight hours but there were only four of them and they had a tonne of BBC equipment too.’
LAR also started a local gig racing club in January 2013 which has grown rapidly from just a handful of rowers to 90 members in the last year.
Gigs are traditional rowing boats which were used as some of Britain’s earliest lifeboats. Each year the Pilot Gig World Championships are held in the Isles of Scilly and last year was LAR’s championship debut.
‘Rowing a gig is pretty straightforward but you are rowing in the sea in big changing waters,’ says Mike.
‘Last year was our first World Championships. We didn’t know what to expect. The opening race is a mile-and-a-half and there are 135 gigs racing together.
‘Races are short and punchy and when you cross the finish line you are hooked!’ Mike laughs.
Working alongside Mike, Shelley Cook, rowing coach and personal trainer for LAR also loves the challenge of rowing at sea: ‘I love big choppy water, I thrive on it, but different people will react differently,’ says Shelley. ‘Rowing in big water can be really frightening when you are in a little boat but we expose people to it gradually so they get used to it.
‘You also have to be able to deal with different kinds of water and traffic so we go out to the shipping lanes to get people used to being around big boats and how to deal with them.’
As a qualified personal trainer Shelley helps people to get fit enough to complete their rowing adventures.
‘For challenge groups we do benchmark training days to assess basic fitness on the rowing machines.
‘Then we put together a training programme for them which is progressive and do further fitness tests to see how much they have improved and encourage them to train even harder.’
Shelley has also rowed from London to Paris and knows that rowing is as much mental as physical.
‘London to Paris is always billed as life-changing.
‘You are dealing with all sorts of issues and you are in pain – bits of you hurt. People learn a lot about themselves on the water – you get a sense of your own strength and what you are capable of.
‘I hated getting out of a nice warm sleeping bag and into wet rowing clothes – it’s phenomenally hard – but you get in the boat and it’s like a switch, for the next two hours this is what you’re doing.’
Alongside the adventure and personal victory Shelley also finds a special kind of peace from rowing.
‘Sometimes we go out in the dark and wait on the pontoon for enough light to head out,’ she says.
‘To row first thing in the morning when the rest of the world is asleep and all you can hear is the splash and clunk of the oars is beautiful.’
WHERE: Northney Marina, Hayling Island, Hampshire PO11 0NH
CALL: 07767 350512
Langstone Adventure Rowers offers traditional fixed-seat rowing in a variety of different boats.
n Great for team building.
n Weekly Row Fit classes to improve rower’s fitness.
n LAR trains rowers to take part in various challenges throughout the year including the Vogalonga rowing regatta in Venice and the Solent Marathon.