Evelyn Pakule, Coastal Under 19 Women's Solo, Great Britain, 2023 World Rowing Coastal Championships & Beach SPrint Finals, Barletta, Italy / World Rowing/Mauricie Summers

The recent announcement by the International Olympic Committee that Beach Sprint Rowing will be included in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games programme was the culmination of a vision, passion and hard work of many people over many years. We took a look back at how the story had unfolded, and spoke to two individuals who had been key figures in the development of the discipline.

The story goes back to 2011, when Guin Batten became chair of FISA’s (now World Rowing) “Rowing for All” Commission, which at the time regrouped Coastal Rowing. Guin says she was tasked by Matt Smith, then Executive Director of FISA, to “make coastal rowing an exciting and compelling discipline, not just for the participants, for spectators on the land.”

That year, the World Rowing Coastal Championships were held in Bari, Italy, and Pasquale Triggiani was chair of the Organising Committee. It was at that Championships that the format of Beach Sprint Rowing started to evolve during what Guin and Pasquale remember as a “post regatta party”. The morning after the Coastal Championships had finished, a number of athletes were invited to a fun regatta off the beach; a mass start with a 2km row and a beach run. Guin recalls “That Sunday morning we had as many spectators as the day before for some of the Championships finals, and they all started to clap every rower over the line. That was the moment I realised we needed to bring the rowers to the spectators, they needed to be as close to the action as we could get them.”

This experiment was such a success that the coastal rules were soon expanded to allow for beach starts and finishes, and the 2013 World Rowing Coastal Championships in Helsingborg, Sweden, saw the first ever beach finish at a Championships. Around this time, a number of multi-sport beach games started to emerge, and with it came an opportunity for coastal rowing to be part of it. Pasquale was now on the Rowing for All Commission, along with a number of other maverick minds and, under Guin’s chairship, Beach Sprints were born. One of the design essentials was that the format needed to reach new nations, especially those not already involved in classic Olympic rowing.

Pasquale reflects;

“We worked all of 2013 and 2014 to explain the format to the other World Rowing Commissions, a lot of them considered us “mad rowers” but, in the end, Council/Congress approved the Beach Sprints format.”

The ‘sliding doors’ moment happened in 2015, when rowing was accepted as a sport at the Mediterranean Beach Games in Pescara, just a few hours’ drive from Pasquale’s hometown. The plan came together when Pasquale was appointed Competition Manager, and Guin the Technical Delegate.

Guin reflects; “Pescara was crazy, Pasquale went out and built a venue for a format that had never been raced! When I arrived on the beach, the course was all there already for the boats and the teams, just as we had planned it. The first thing we had to do was get the coaches into the classroom and explain the rules, a day later the umpires arrived, and we repeated the same classroom session. The coaches called for another classroom session, and this time they came with their athletes. It was ridiculous really!”

Meanwhile, the Asian Rowing Federation were keen to also get rowing into the 2016 Asian Beach Games, in Da Nang, Vietnam. For the second time, the sport was introduced to a community of rowers and technical officials that had never seen the format. The Technical Delegate Mike Tanner, really got behind the ‘beach culture’ concept, introducing a DJ and local dancers to the format.

“Da Naag, was epic – everything was big, from the size of the speakers to the waves. On the second day of racing, we arrived at the beach, and no one was training. The Competition Manager and TD, asked ‘Is it too big to go out? The teams are unsure’. I knew we had to get a boat out into the waves pretty quickly, I found a solo and went out into the surf. As I turned the boat to go back to shore I knew the whole regatta rested on me staying upright. I surfed in on a dream wave and to my relief racing started on time.”

Pasquale reflected;

“The 2015 Mediterranean Beach Games and 2016 Asian Beach Games really highlighted the potential of Beach Sprints for the Nations not involved in Olympic rowing. Algeria and Tunisia were victorious in Pescara, overtaking many well-established European Nations, while Thailand and Indonesia overcame the Chinese squadron in De Nang to pick up medals.”

The Asian Rowing Federation quickly loved Beach Sprints, it was their coastal format of choice and, in 2018, Shenzhen hosted the Asian Rowing Coastal Championships. Guin said, “The beach in Shenzhen has a wave with a nasty little sting. The wipe outs from the regatta in 2018 have become legendary!”

Guin reflects, “Here in the UK, British Rowing had started a Beach Sprints National Championships and in 2018 ran the first ever Commonwealth Beach Sprint Regatta in Poole. I remember taking my vinyl cutter and heat press to the accommodation and the teams queuing up with their uni-suits to get their names printed on. We wanted the rowers to be known by their names, not by a boat class. We realised if people were going to stop and watch the rowers, they needed to become personalities out on the sand.”

In October 2018, the 2022 Youth Olympic Games were awarded to Dakar, and if rowing was to be included it needed to be on the sea, so Beach Sprint Rowing was put forward to the IOC and accepted. The games were postponed until 2026 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following this decision, World Rowing realised that it was time to establish the World Rowing Beach Sprints Finals. The Rowing for All Commission wanted to ensure the format maintained its low cost and complexity, so called it a ‘Finals’ rather than a ‘Championships’, to try and stop the regatta getting bigger and bigger.

One year later, Shenzen, China, hosted the first edition of the World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals. The vision that Pasquale and Guin had designed in a hotel in Heathrow had finally grown up!

And so again Beach Sprints started on another journey, this time to convince the IOC Sport Department that the coastal discipline would be an exciting addition. After several delayed announcements, 11:55 on Friday the 13th October 2023, Guin’s phone started pinging to the news. Beach Sprints would be the only new discipline accepted from a pre-existing Olympic sport for LA28 from the 17 that applied.

As soon as the news was announced, Guin messaged Pasquale sharing a photo of them rowing in a double in Pescara in 2015 with the words “LA28, Vision, Passion, Hardwork”. Pasquale replied; “Thanks Guin. We looked younger in 2015!”

The story of Beach Sprint Rowing is only just beginning and we’re excited to see it continue to evolve over the coming years, towards it’s Olympic debut in 2028.

To learn more about Beach Sprint Rowing, click here to watch a presentation of the discipline, here to learn more on “How to Beach Sprint” or click here to download our media booklet.