If you’ve been away from the sport of rowing for a long time (like I have), you might be forgiven for being a bit surprised that Masters crews are not only qualifying for events like Henley Royal Regatta and Henley Women’s Regatta, but are winning races there too.

Then again, if you saw the quality of rowing on show at the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Bled, you wouldn’t be surprised.

The standard of international rowing today arguably is higher than it has ever been, and the rowing world as a whole has moved on considerably. Masters rowing has pushed on too.

In the UK, for example, it seems that there are vets programmes at many more clubs. Learn-to-row programmes are bringing in new rowers at Masters as well as at junior level. Many Masters athletes are now doing the same training as senior club level colleagues. For Masters athletes, there is the question of how to balance more intense training with recovery time in order to maintain optimum performance. However, as more Masters athletes train harder and harder, this will see higher levels of competitive racing. Such competition was evident in Bled.

Drawn from the Netherlands to New Zealand and from Chile to the Czech Republic, 4,728 international athletes sat in 1,000 boats. Some events had almost 200 entries. Race after race tore down the track to a close finish. As I type, yet another group of boats flew across the line with feet between them. Three minutes later (so busy is the programme, that this is the interval period between races), another sprint finish saw the victors hold on by half-a-length.

Winning clearly meant a lot to many of the athletes.

However, what was striking was not just the quality of the competition but the enjoyment and enthusiasm emanating from the event. The atmosphere was very relaxed, with banter on the bank and in the boat. However, as soon as the flag dropped, the competition was very serious.

Combining competition and enjoyment provides one answer to the question of why we row.

People row to try something new, because they want to get fit, because they love the water, because they’ve seen and heard how much fun it can be, or (like me) because they couldn’t do anything else.

On Bled’s crystal-clear waters (so clear that you could see the blades beneath the surface), the Masters athletes’ enthusiasm was infectious. What stood out, too, was their simple pleasure in being on the water and making a boat go fast. That may well be why they still row.

Lee Willett, World Rowing Masters Regatta, Bled

Photo credit: Lee Willett/Rowe.rs