A sport renowned for the demands it places on competitors saw old bonds renewed yesterday when the Tauranga Rowing Club celebrated 23 of its past rowers getting back on the water.

It was an occasion not be missed for ''olde oars'' like Bill Holland, Ron Lipinski, Dave McFarlane, Barry Muir and Bruce Simister.

The get-together was another sign of the strength of the club in the lead-up to its milestone centennial celebrations next year.

''That is rowing. People get so bonded to rowing through their secondary school years,'' club president Steve Taylor said.

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''There is this massive social thing - it is a tremendous team sport."

The intensity demanded by the sport created a comradeship that defied the passing years.

Taylor would like to see more people come back to the sport, once they had graduated from university and returned to the Bay. But the fact was at least 90 per cent of rowers called it a day once they left college - having enjoyed the huge annual challenge of the New Zealand Secondary School Rowing Championship, also known as the Maadi Cup.

However, he said, people who had left the sport many years ago still talked warmly about rowing, despite its physical demands.

The intensity of competition generated by the famous Maadi Cup regatta saw college-age rowers out training on the harbour Monday to Thursday mornings before school, and again on Saturday morning.

He said it seemed like a demanding schedule to the uninitiated, but the kids were soon bouncing out of bed, tucking into breakfast and getting on to the water.

Tauranga Rowing Club's membership is based around its secondary school rowers and masters rowers, with a smattering in between.

This year's championship rowed at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel featured the Tauranga Girls College under-16 quad crew winning the school's first gold medal in 11 years competing in the prestigious event.

Another big achievement was the Tauranga Boys College A team making the rowing eights final, even although they missed out on a medal.

And Mount Maunganui College, which had been out of rowing for many years, did well to get its girls' coxed four crew into the B-final.

''It is good to see so many kids coming through and competing really strongly.''

Tauranga Girls College, Tauranga Boys College, Mount Maunganui College and Aquinas College were affiliated to the club and their 70 rowers used all its facilities at Memorial Park.

Another pointer to a strong future for the club was an additional 45 pre-novice rowers coming through, Taylor said.

At the other end of the spectrum were the masters rowers who trained two sessions a week, combining healthy exercise with a strong social environment - plus the goal for some rowers of masters regattas.

And although most left the sport after secondary school, some ''who really wanted it'' went on to row at university level, he said. Former Tauranga Boys College pupil and Olympian Mahe Drysdale was one of those rare people who did not begin rowing until he was at university.

The enormous cost of the club's boats - an eights boat cost $80,000 to $85,000 - meant it was not a cheap sport but Taylor said the club liked to keep the fees down for the kids.

He said it was always looking for lightweight youngsters to cox the crews, usually Year 9s or 10s. ''They are often forgotten but they are really important.''

Coxswains steered the boat and executed the game plan in races - making the decisions of when to put the pressure on.

Taylor said Tauranga was lucky to be so close to Lake Karapiro, which meant rowers were not up for a huge amount of travelling and accommodation costs for major regattas, including the Maadi Cup which was raced on alternate years at Karapiro.

Tauranga Rowing Club
- Founded 1919.
- Fees $1600 a year.
- Caters for competitive and recreational rowers.
- Based at Memorial Park.