You might have heard of the two formats at Coastal Rowing regattas – Beach sprint and long distance. The former is certainly the one that is most interesting for teams and spectators. Start and finish are on the beach, but the race is usually decided at the turn of the beach sprint. But what exactly is the Beach Sprint?
At the Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar (Senegal) in 2026 the Beach Sprint will be part of the programme. So it will be interesting to see how a discipline like this will be handled in an Olympic setting.
What is the beach sprint?
A short distance of 250m is rowed until a turning buoy is reached. On the way to the turning buoy, 2 marker buoys must be passed in a slalom. Once the turning buoy has been circled, the athletes can row on the direct route to the beach. Turning is the most critical manoeuvre during the race and is often crucial to success or failure. World Rowing has a nice video about this from the 2019 events. We took the pictures in this post from the video.
The rowers stand on the beach and wait for the starting gun. As soon as the shot has happened, they run to the boat and get on. To keep the boat stable, every athlete has 2 helpers who hold the boat for him. This is the only way to get started in an orderly manner. Every athlete has his own tricks for getting on the boat and rowing away as quickly as possible. At the beginning the following questions should be answered: Are the shoes sitting correctly? Where are the skulls and on which side do I get in? It is important to be mentally prepared!
The boat handlers
All rowers have two or three helpers at the boat. They are called boat handlers and hold the boat level and straighten the rowers skulls. All of this is carefully planned so that boarding the boat works as quickly and smoothly as possible. It’s not always easy. The swell and the outgoing waves often make it bumpy, or you could also say challenging and exciting.
Slalom, turn and a direct route to the goal
When the athletes are seated, they row straight away at full power. With a total of 500 meters, there is no tacting or weighing up how best to divide one’s forces. “Full Speed” from start to finish! If the slalom is rowed incorrectly, there are penalties, as well as if the turn is rowed incorrectly.
The turn is a special manoeuvre in itself and has to be practiced often. We’ll describe the turnaround here in the blog next week. Once you are around the buoy, the sprint starts. You row back full speed to the beach, jump out of the boat (boat handlers are ready to catch the boat) and run to the beach to press the buzzer.