1950 Empire Games
Facilities were basic at the first big rowing meeting in New Zealand since the professional sculling era. Athletes, coaches and officials bunked down in army huts beside the recently created Lake Karapiro.
The 20,000 spectators who turned up on race day paid an average of 6 shillings (equivalent to $20 in 2013) to get in. A ‘natural grandstand’ had been improved by bulldozer to give everyone a good view over the course.
50 of the 51 oarsmen who competed in the five events won a medal. The Australian eight overtook New Zealand (represented by the West End club crew from Auckland) to win by a foot (30 centimetres). New Zealand repeated its success at the first Empire Games in 1930 by winning the coxed fours.
1978 world championships
Karapiro hosted the seventh world championship regatta (the first in the southern hemisphere) in November 1978.
The facilities were built by volunteers under the leadership of the chair of the organising committee, Don Rowlands. Nearly 100,000 spectators attended the four days of racing and the $155,000 profit was used to set up a Rowing Foundation to encourage the sport.
Don Rowlands spoke at the closing ceremony with an arm in a sling after an accident with a winch, and his back ‘buggered’ from lifting boats with one arm. A marine engineer, he had also designed and helped build the starting pontoon, which featured pop-up buoys to keep the boats straight in a crosswind.
Thirty countries were represented – Rowlands’s offer to buy boats after the event for resale to local clubs reduced transport costs. The 34,000 present on finals day saw the New Zealand men’s eight come third, the country’s only medal. East Germany won eight of the 13 events.
2010 world championships
The world championships returned to Lake Karapiro in October and November 2010. 67,000 spectators attended, including several thousand from overseas.
Forty-nine countries took part. New Zealand alone had 51 competitors (the total number of rowers in the 1950 games). Winning 10 medals (three of them gold), its most ever at a world championships, New Zealand ranked third behind Great Britain and Germany.
The 33 ‘adaptive’ events for rowers with disabilities, raced over 1,000 metres, started from a special pontoon. This meant that, for the first time at a world championships, the adaptive races finished in front of the grandstand.
There were 600 volunteers. Strong winds curtailed the first day of racing and made some finals even more gruelling.
Other international events
In 2008 a 5-kilometre Billy Webb Challenge was rowed down the Whanganui River past the city, to mark the centennial of Webb’s title defences. That year Norwegian rower and Olympic champion Olaf Tufte triumphed again over world champion Mahé Drysdale. However, by 2012 Drysdale had won the Challenge three times. A women’s race for the Philippa Baker-Hogan Cup was added in 2009.
The Gallagher Great Race has been rowed annually since 2002 over 3.85 kilometres upstream on the Waikato River through central Hamilton. The men’s and women’s eights of Waikato University compete against invited crews from overseas universities.