Rowing in New Zealand

Page 1 – Introduction

William Webb, world champion sculler
William Webb, world champion sculler

The world’s best rowers came to New Zealand in 2010 to compete in the FISA World Rowing Championships at Lake Karāpiro, Waikato. Rowing has evolved over thousands of years from a way to get around on water into a sport with its own rules and disciplines. Competitive rowing came to New Zealand with British settlers, and the first local club was established in 1861.

By the end of the 2016 Rio Games, 24 of New Zealand’s 121 Olympic medals had been won by rowers, one fewer than the number won by track and field athletes. Less well known is the golden age of professional sculling in the early 20th century. Three New Zealanders held the world title – the first to be contested in this country – for a total of six years. Vast crowds watched (and bet on) challenge races on the Whanganui River.

The 2010 championships was the third major international rowing event to be held at Lake Karāpiro. The 1950 Empire Games regatta attracted more than 20,000 spectators to watch just five races. The 1978 world championship event ran for a week but was still a bit rough round the edges. Its 2010 sequel combined the best traditions of Kiwi ‘can-do’ with technological sophistication as it hosted some of the world’s finest athletes in any sport.

How to cite this page

'Rowing in New Zealand', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 9-Jun-2022