Fort Hare University’s fledgling rowing team will enter deep waters when they launch their bid to establish themselves as a serious player in the sport at the 135th Buffalo Regatta in East London.
The regatta, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country, has evolved from a single-day event to a three-day affair and the latest edition launches on the Buffalo River on Thursday.
“It is one of the most important events on the calendar and most of our rowers will be competing in it for the first time,” said coach Lunga Mcetywa.
He expected a “very difficult competition” as they would line up against some of the country’s best rowers. Hence, his initial goal for his students was to have competitive fun as they learnt the ropes of the uber technical water sport.
Even though the Fort Hare rowers impressed at the recent Eastern Cape Championships, where they competed in the C-division, Mcetywa did not expect a similar outcome for his relatively green class of 2023.
Instead, he said, it was an opportunity for the student-athletes to gain experience against top-class competitors.
The Alice-based university has entered a team of 18 to compete in various classes and the coach reiterated the importance of not placing undue pressure on the rowers at this stage.
“The main thing is for them to go there and do their best. The object of the exercise is to gain experience.”
The Buffalo Regatta offers a unique learning experience as it is the only national event where competitors from junior and senior clubs compete on equal terms.
Mcetywa added that competing in a local event such as the provincial champs was essential at this point in the rowers’ development.
“We had some good results there,” he said, after his team brought home four gold medals, two silvers, a bronze and a fourth place. “I was happy with that performance.”
The idea was to use the smaller events as stepping stones to more important ones such as this weekend’s and the upcoming Selborne Sprints Regatta, he said.
Even though rowing was in its infancy at Fort Hare, the coach said there was plenty of enthusiasm for the sport.
“We now need a long-term vision that would require us to target first-year students because it takes time to develop a person’s rowing capabilities.”
The “cox” of the club said it was his belief that the institution had the capacity to take the sport to the next level.
“We have some really energetic members who are willing to learn and improve. Now we just need to keep targeting more students to join so that we can create good competition between ourselves.”
The boats launch 4 350m upstream from the finishing area at the Buffalo RiverWorks sports bar.