You could say Steve Cushing found himself in a boat without an oar in his first flirtation with the Hawke's Bay Rowing Club as an unsuspecting 34-year-old.

But just as many years later Cushing is the coxswain, if you like, in helping steer a club that has catapulted rowers from the unassuming Clive River to the giddy heights of the Summer Olympics and world championships.

What started out as "deception" from a friend and neighbour has mutated into a journey of passion and determination for the now 68-year-old recently retired freight sorter at New Zealand Couriers.

"He got me there by false pretences," he says with a laugh of club stalwart and retired coach Cedric Bayley who had returned from a club meeting one night to reveal to him he had been nominated as a committee member because they were shy of one.


A stunned Cushing, who had laughed it off, then received an official letter from the club notifying him of his inclusion and he "never looked back since then".

"Actually I didn't know what I was getting myself into, put it that way," he says. "But once I got there I had no options but to pick up things a week before my first committee meeting."

A 34-year member, he still serves on the committee but assumed the mantle of the annual New Year's regatta co-ordinator three years ago and will be instrumental in ensuring everything goes smoothly this weekend.

Cushing expects at least 200 athletes to descend at the river, including Bay rowers as well as the traditionally two clubs from Whanganui (Union Wanganui and Aramaho Wanganui) as well as Star Boating Club Wellington, Wellington and Petone from the capital city.

The other campaigners hail from Horowhenua, Te Awamutu, Taupo, Whakatane and Gisborne for the regatta which begins at 2.30pm and finishes at 7.30pm today before its conclusion at midday tomorrow.

For Cushing, it turned out to be a "hoodwink" of immense satisfaction, building rapport with carefree and enterprising people as well as relishing watching his nephews and nieces go on to become elite regional rowers.

For someone who played fullback and wing for the Clive rugby reserve team and responds to the nickname of "Boots", he could relate to the mental fortitude required to try to make it into big time in a boat.

"I was known to have kicked a few goals in my time," he says with a laugh.


Cushing quietly shares the pride and joy of the countless rowers who persist and prevail on a platform of enjoyment.

Picking up material after regattas poses its share of challenges on Friday afternoons for the bloke who lives not far from Farndon Park.

"It was a big job," he says of the mountain of club gear.

His foray into club captaincy is the simply the desire to take ownership at a time when not too many people can find the time to make commitments.

"I thought I'll give this a go and the president and secretary were absolutely great to work with," he says of Chris Morgan and Andrew Norris, respectively.

During his time, Cushing came across numerous changes.

"When I first started they were all wooden boats and now they're all carbon fibre so that's a big change."

Cushing says six months after retiring from his courier profession, he ticks the days over.

With managing facilities indoor and outdoor as part of his portfolio at the club, he reckons those demands keep him out of mischief.

The Evers-Swindell twins Georgina (Earl) and Caroline (Meyer) put the Hawke's Bay Rowing Club on the global map with their golden accomplishments in Olympics and world championships. Photo/NZME
The Evers-Swindell twins Georgina (Earl) and Caroline (Meyer) put the Hawke's Bay Rowing Club on the global map with their golden accomplishments in Olympics and world championships. Photo/NZME

Of the many Bay rowers who graced the river, Cushing found the Evers-Swindell sisters, Georgina and Caroline, the most inspirational.

"They were brilliant and we knew they had to move on because they were getting pretty good so they really put us on the map," he says of the two-time Olympic gold medallists who have a monument constructed in Hamilton to commemorate their contribution to the code not just nationally but globally.

"Every time I see them ... at Karapiro — and they have families now — they are still delightful girls to talk to," he says of the Hastings-born sisters who are now 40 and mothers.

The identical twins, who attended Rudolf Steiner School, were double scullers who won gold in the discipline at Athens in 2004 and then followed it up in Beijing in 2008 before retiring in October that year. The faces of Beef and Lamb New Zealand, who had won gold at both the 2002 and 2003 World Rowing Championships, also had created history in becoming the first pair to have defended the women's double scull title.

In December 2008, the Evers-Swindell sisters won the Lonsdale Cup for the second time (also in 2003), which the New Zealand Olympic Committee awards to athletes who make the most outstanding contribution to an Olympic code.

The International Rowing Federation (Fisa) named the twins Rowing Female Crew of the Year in November 2005. In 2016 they became the first New Zealanders to be awarded the federation's highest award, the Thomas Keller Medal.

In January 2009, Georgina married Sam Earl, a former New Zealand rower and son of Olympic gold medallist rower Athol Earl. Since then, she has gone by the name of Georgina Earl.

Caroline followed in December that year, tying the knot with Olympic rower Carl Meyer in Taupo.

The Evers-Swindell sisters' contribution to sport was acknowledged at the 2009 Halberg Awards when they were named Sports Champions of the Decade.

For the record, Caroline, who was born four minutes younger than Georgina on October 10, 1978, and goes by the nickname of K, started rowing at 14 and the latter followed after the former got into the national age-group squad within two years.

Caroline, who was in the stroke seat, and Georgina, commanding the bow, enjoyed an idyllic upbringing at the then family pip-fruit orchard in Hastings with sisters Pippa and Lizzie, and parents Hornby and Fran.