Head of the River

On 12 March 112 Pembroke rowers competed at West Lakes in the season’s most prestigious regatta, the Head of the River. For many it was a journey that had begun 6 years before as budding young rowers and was now being completed as members of the First VIII; for some that journey was just beginning and the excitement of being a part of South Australia’s biggest rowing regatta gave a new and lasting impression. The 2016 Head of the River encompassed 1,000 rowers and nearly 10,000 spectators who took the opportunity to cheer on their schools. 

Starting early in the morning the Pembroke tents were soon filled with rowers, families and friends. Fellow students also came down to celebrate the big day. Old scholars dusted off their school blazers, perhaps remembering a time when they fitted a little less snugly. The Rowing Parents Association provided food and drink for the day, one of many fundraising and social events held to support the rowers. Dotted among this sea of green, yellow and blue were many members of staff who came to lend their support to the Rowing students. Lining up with the rowers were the 20 or so coaches, who had likewise given up countless hours of their spare time.

The early morning heats were used to whittle down the numbers for later finals. The Girls 9A boat, who had rowed well in the regattas leading into the Head of the River, knocked off 40 seconds from their early season results. But the crew were unable to capitalise on their good form; perhaps due to the weight of expectation or a misplaced oar, they could not find the rhythm that had previously served them well. Despite coming from the back of the field, they had a fast finish and gained on the earlier leading boats to take out fifth place. Ultimately they were left wondering what could have been and perhaps setting their sights on the next season.

Sometimes Rowing becomes a race within a race; the Boys 9A boat had such an experience in their final. The early leaders surged ahead to an assured victory and left the real race to the next three boats. The Pembroke crew competed stroke for stroke with its nearest rivals as the three boats crossed the line only a second apart. The photo finish camera was used to separate the crews and the 9A Boys team ultimately took out a hard-fought third place.

In what became one of the signature races of the day, the Boys 10A crew took an early lead with clean blade work and a smooth rhythm. Working through their race plan with what seemed like relative ease, they exerted every ounce of energy to move away from their highly fancied rivals. As the splash of oars came into view of the jostling spectators, it became apparent that first place was going to be decided in the last 500 m of the race. The strain of the preceding 1,000 m was writ large on the faces of the Pembroke boys. Never giving up, the Pembroke crew took the race right to the line and held on for a magnificent second place. Slumped over their oars it was evident that the tank had been well and truly emptied in this do or die race.

The Girls Intermediate (10A) squad experienced a day of highs and lows. A sick rower was replaced by an enthusiastic but inexperienced newcomer and the remaining rowers were shuffled to fill the void. Although the squad contained many talented rowers and had done well in previous seasons, the rowers were unable to recapture their earlier form. Some tough racing against quality opponents saw some creditable results and the 10A crew finished fourth.

The 2015–16 Senior campaign involved countless strokes and sore muscles as many kilometres were rowed on the River Murray and at West Lakes. During the season these rowers achieved personal best ergo scores and greatly improved their technique. Rowing became a lifestyle of eat, sleep, row and homework. Regular team dinners were held to discuss tactics and load up on carbs. Sore hands were replaced by callouses and physiques changed. Weeks and months went by, and what started out as a group of individuals became a finely honed team. The Head of the River was a day of blood, sweat and tears. It was also a day of pride—in being part of the Pembroke Senior squad and in rowing with people who were now friends for life.

Ultimately the 2016 Head of the River showed that Pembroke can compete with the best, and that with self-belief and dedication a place on the winners’ podium is not too far away.

Girls 8A  3rd
Boys 9A  1st
Girls 9B  3rd
Girls 9A  5th
Boys 10A  1st
Girls 10A  4th
Girls 8D  3rd
Girls 8C  5th
Girls 8B  4th
Girls 8A 4th
Boys 9C 5th
Boys 9B  3rd
Boys 9A 3rd
Girls 9D 2nd
Girls 9C 3rd
Girls 9B 6th
Boys 10B 5th
Boys 10A  2nd
Girls 10C  3rd
Girls 10B  4th
Girls 10A  4th
Girls First IV  4th
Boys 2nd VIII  4th
Boys First VIII  5th
Girls First VIII  5th

Thank you to all the coaches, parents and friends who made the Head of the River regatta and dinner a great success. Well done to all the rowers who dedicated themselves to the pursuit of Rowing excellence.

Mr Potts
Head of Rowing