LAURA Coventry remembers her introduction to rowing well.
"It was four years ago and I wasn't really into sport. Dad dragged me down here to the Hawke's Bay club and I was almost crying in the car."
Coventry's father was former Magpies co-coach and now a Super Rugby title-winning assistant coach with the Chiefs, Tom Coventry, who is also a former rower. While far from happy with her father at the time, Coventry, who will start a physical education course at Otago University next month, is grateful he encouraged her towards the code.
"I fell in love with rowing ... I'm addicted to it," Coventry said after completing another training session at the Clive-based club yesterday.
That addiction will see Coventry, 18, and her club double and quad crewmate Hannah Bailey among the club's most busy rowers at the club's annual New Year's regatta this weekend. They will tackle quad, double and single races in both club and open divisions.
"It's a fun regatta, but you only have fun if you are winning," Bailey remarked, and former Iona College student Coventry nodded in approval.
Although Coventry is heading to Otago she will still represent Hawke's Bay at this summer's nationals but is likely to row for Otago in future with the aim of cracking the Southern Regional Performance Centre squad.
Coventry, Bailey, Ashlea Quirk, Maggie Laracy and Aisha Wainwright are all battling for berths in the Bay club's women's club quad crew.
"Our coach [Rohan Condon] reckons the quad is our best chance for a title at nationals, and when there's competition for berths it makes the crew stronger," Coventry explained.
At the top of her goals is making the New Zealand under-21 squad which will be named in April. Coventry is confident she won't become a victim of first year university student distractions in Dunedin.
"I'm too dedicated for that to happen ... we've trained so hard we're not going to give it up."
Woodford House year 13 student Bailey, 16, and Coventry train for 20 hours each week.
A third-year rower and 2012 North Island under-18 representative, Bailey, will tackle the single club or under-20 event at nationals and both the under-17 and under-18 single events at the Maadi Cup regatta.
"It would be good to get a top-three placing in those events," she said.
A gold medallist at last year's Maadi, Bailey will get an early indication of her form when she takes on Wanganui's Sara-Jane Back today. Back finished second to Bailey at Maadi Cup level.
"We're good friends off the water but on the water we thrive on our rivalry," Bailey said.
"What I achieve during the next couple of months will determine whether I make junior world training squads."
Next year Bailey intends to study engineering or commerce at university in Auckland, Waikato or Canterbury. She is a huge fan of Hawke's Bay Olympian Emma Twigg.
"To see what Emma has achieved after starting out in the Bay is inspirational to me," Bailey said.
Coventry's biggest idols in the sport are Olympic gold medallists Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.
"Their attitude and work ethic impress me, and Eric is so down to earth."
Bailey and Coventry are full of praise for the "family environment" at the Hawke's Bay club. "We see each other at their worst when the going gets tough but we all have a good time together too," Coventry added.
This weekend's regatta, which won't have the kayaking component it has had for the past two years, will involve 267 crews from 13 clubs throughout the North Island.
An Austrian masters competitor will provide an international flavour.
There will be 71 races in 38 different events today which will sort out the starters for tomorrow's finals. Almost all of the Bay club's 98 rowers will be in action.
Club captain Ross Webb is confident the hosts will retain the Hawke's Bay Cup, which it has never relinquished at the event. The cup is won by the club which records the most points.
"I know Wanganui-Aramoho have been making noises about taking the cup after we won their Jury Cup regatta for the fifth consecutive time last month, but our rowers will be ready for the challenge. We're going to have a bit of fun and do some winning at the same time," Webb said.
Hawke's Bay's two members of the New Zealand men's eight crew, Adam Tripp and Richard Harrison, along with New Zealand under-23 representative Abbey Green, will be scoring points for the hosts.
Like Coventry and Bailey, many of the Bay rowers will be using the event as part of their build-up to either the Twizel-hosted national championships in six weeks or the Lake Karapiro-hosted Maadi Cup secondary schools regatta in nine weeks - or both, as is the case for Bailey.