On the 27th February, Durham University launched a new sport. Formula Rowing is a new spectator-orientated format of rowing, opening the next exciting chapter of a sport steeped in tradition. The concept has received the go-ahead from the Northern Rowing Council and will be open to all when it takes to the water again on the 19th June.
The company’s whimsical #WeRowInCircles disguises some very serious technological and psychological changes to the sport. Revolutionary patented steering does away with conventional rudders, replacing them with active surfaces similar to those used on fighter jets. This allows racing boats to turn faster and more safely than ever before, creating an arena not witnessed since the last chariot race in ancient times. There’s no more running down the bank to cheer on your mates; everyone has the best seat in the house.
Formula Rowing hosted its first race on a cold Saturday the 27th February in Stockton, seeing 90 athletes compete on the first circular rowing water track in the UK. St Aidan’s College Boat Club (SACBC) won the day clinching both the men’s and the women’s races. Starting in pole position for the men and in second for the women, they were driven to victory by their coxswain Patrick Alton, who executed 4 nail-biting overtakes. In the men’s race coming back from third place at the end of the first lap, SACBC looks set to be the college to beat at the Formula Rowing Open, which will be held on the 19th June.
Formula Rowing also allows spectators to get closer to the action, as live camera feeds are beamed to audiences, capturing every cox, corner and cut up. Bringing action and data normally lost to distance to the palm of the hand, colleges and crews can be followed from anywhere in the world.
Formula Rowing’s Proof of Concept event last term was an overwhelming success. Despite its introduction at the end of the season, 95% of participants polled enjoyed the day, saying it was more enjoyable than other formats they had seen before. Formula Rowing fills the gap between sportsmen and athletes in a sport where the pursuit of perfection prevails.
Conceived by Dr. Benedict Douglas (lecturer in Law) and developed by friends at St John’s College Boat Club, the company is Durham University’s first sport spin-off company. The idea won the Durham Blueprint Enterprise Challenge last year and has since been shrouded in secrecy whilst the idea was finalised and patented, supported by the northern rowing community and guided by the University. A year later and still run by a Durham student (Tom Rowan – Engineering PhD student), the company is expanding rapidly and taking on more Durham students to bolster its ranks. Although firmly rooted in the North East, Formula Rowing is becoming increasingly national.
The great sporting presence that, for many, is at the very heart of Durham, has nurtured Formula Rowing. Backed by significant support and advice from the University, there are high hopes that Formula Rowing will be the next global British sporting export, whilst retaining its historical Durham roots.
Kieran Moriarty was speaking to Tom Rowan, pioneer of Formula Rowing.
Photograph: Elis Wilkins