Olympic rower Lassi Karonen explained that, “the similarity (with flat-water rowing) is the movement of the stroke, everything else is different.” One of these differences is the course.  Flat water rowing championships take place on straight, buoyed, 2,000m courses that are protected from severe weather elements to guarantee a fair race. Coastal rowing championships take place on 4,000 to 6,000m courses where sharp turns, wind and waves add excitement to the competition.

Boats and equipment in the boat yard at the 2012 Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The first challenge for competitors at the Championships in Helsingborg was making it through the heats and into the A-finals. Tough weather conditions, including wind, waves and a strong current meant that Friday’s racing was much more technical than physical.

Karonen found it difficult to navigate the buoys through the waves. “I was a bit disoriented and didn’t know where to go, so I decided to just follow the rest of the pack,” he said. Karonen decided to try coastal rowing while taking a break from flat-water rowing after the London Olympics. He finished ninth in his heat of the men’s solo, narrowly missing out on the A-final, but was not discouraged by his performance. “I need to learn a few new tricks,” he said.

Even experienced coastal rowers found Friday’s conditions to be a challenge. “The wind took us to the wrong side of the start buoy, and then we got stuck. But it’s all a part of the excitement” said Gunilla Sommer from The Danish Students Rowing Association. One of the key skills in coastal rowing is the ability to navigate the course and row with any water conditions. When conditions are difficult, the race requires better technique and better navigation.
Some of the other newcomers to coastal rowing fared better. London Olympic bronze medallist and World Champion Alexandra Tsiavou of Greece struggled to stay on course during Friday’s heat, but succeeded in qualifying for the A-final.  With one race under her belt, Tsiavou used Saturday’s calmer water to her advantage and won the women’s solo ahead of two experienced French athletes. “I knew Alexandra was stronger physically, so I had to row efficiently; I had to navigate well and use good technique,” said silver medallist Stephanie Chantry.

Saturday’s weather conditions may have been more favourable to flat water rowers. The wind died down and the waves were smaller, which allowed crews to increase their stroke rate and apply power more effectively. The course, the buoys and the beach landing had flat water rowers and experienced coastal rowers alike fighting for top spots.

“It was hard because it was so long and then at the end the run on the beach is so difficult after rowing 6,000 meters. But we had a strong second half and passed the Greeks and the Germans,” said Francesco Garibaldi, gold medallist from the Italian men’s double sculls. They succeeded in passing the charging Greek double of Apostlos and Nikolaos Gkountoulas, who were looking to prove they could make the tough transition from flat water to coastal.

Apostlos and Nikolaos Gkountoulas of Greece launching their double at the 2013 World Rowing Coastal Championships in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Apostlos Gkountoulas was very pleased with their second place finish. “The race was wonderful. The rowing was perfect, but it is so difficult to focus on the directions and turns. Coastal rowing has the same philosophy as flat water rowing, but it is very different. For example there are crashes and a beach landing, we loved it!” he said.

This year’s championship was an opportunity for the Greek rowers to gain experience for the 2014 World Rowing Coastal Championships, which will be held 17-19 October in Thessaloniki, Greece.