Self-proclaimed “the oldest and craziest event in the territory”, Henley-on-Todd is a dry rowing race. This means that participants cut out the bottom of boats and run while holding them.

The first event was held in 1962 thanks to creator Reg Smith.  It began when the Alice Springs Rotary Club met to discuss potential fundraising ideas. Smith suggested holding a ‘dry regatta’ on the ephemeral Todd River. When questioned by his fellow rotary members if they should tow or push the boats, he famously responded: “Neither, we cut the bottoms out and carry them.”

The first edition of the event was relatively simple. It included boats without bottoms being run from one point to another near Todd River in Alice Springs, Australia. Alice Springs is in the Northern Territory of Australia, deep in the heart of the country.

2018 Henley On Todd Regatta, Alice Springs, Australia ©

Over the years, the event has grown. National and international media interest has helped the event to gain a prominent spot on Alice Spring’s calendar. This year’s event, which was held on 18 August 2018, saw an astonishing 430 participants cheered on by more than 4700 spectators.

The event has also expanded its racing schedule.  The link to rowing remains with the ‘rowing 4s’ event.  A rowing-shaped shell is carried by a four-person crew to a buoy, around the buoy, and back to the finish line. In a similar fashion the ‘mini-yacht’ race has sailing-style boats that are carried by a crew of four to six people. While the ‘kayak’ event has one person carrying a kayak shaped boat around a buoy and through a slalom course before returning to the finish line. These boats are provided by the organising committee, which encourages community participation in the event.

In recent years, even more (and potentially crazier) activities have been added to the schedule such as ‘battle of the boats’ in which three battle boats, powered by four wheel drives make their way around a sandy stadium while shooting flour mortars.  But there are also more events for kids and families, such as the kids sand castle building challenge.

The event has been cancelled only once in its history, in 1993. Ironically, it was due to flooding on the Todd River. That means that the 58th edition of the event will be held next year on 17 August, 2019.

For more information, here