Current Olympic single-scull champion Mahe Drysdale's late entry into the Billy Webb Challenge on the Whanganui River added even more firepower to the 40-boat field, and crowds gathered to watch the race on Sunday.
The Billy Webb Challenge commemorates New Zealand's first professional single-sculling world champion William "Billy" Webb's defence of his world title on the Whanganui River in 1908, in front of 25,000 spectators.
Unsurprisingly, Drysdale came home first in the men's single scull event.
Anna MacQuerrie from the Wellington Rowing Club took out first place in the women's single scull race.
Speaking to the Chronicle, Drysdale said he always loved coming down to Whanganui and despite the wind, it had been a good race.
"The wind just made for a little bit of extra training," Drysdale said.
"I've had a pretty poor buildup through 2020, so I'm glad to be in 2021 and have my first competitive race since the nationals last year.
"It's good to be back out there."
After Whanganui, Drysdale said he would be focusing on the North Island Championships next week.
"That's the first two-kilometre racing we've got, and then we go pretty quickly into nationals and then our national trials.
"Then everyone crosses their fingers and hope it all happens as it should and the Olympics are on this year.
"At the end of the day you've just got to enjoy it and the hard thing is that those decisions aren't in our hands. It's about training hard and what will be, will be."
New Zealand was lucky to be the only country in the world where training hadn't been greatly disrupted, Drysdale said.
"I'm looking forward to the next six or seven months, and seeing what it has in store for us."
At the prizegiving ceremony following the race, Drysdale told the crowd that although the upcoming Tokyo Olympics would be his last, he would continue to compete at the Billy Webb Challenge in the years to come.
Whanganui Rowing president Phillipa Baker-Hogan, who also served as the event's commentator, said Drysdale's performance was an example of "just how fast one person can move a boat".
"It was his first race back from injury, and a good place to test himself without too much pressure," Baker-Hogan said.
Entries for this year's event were good, Baker-Hogan said, although they were slightly down on last year.
"A few days ago we were close to 50, but there were a few injuries and a couple of quads pulled out.
"Overall we had good support, and having Amy Robson coming all the way from Auckland was fantastic as well.
"If we don't support this event it's pretty hard to stage it, but I think it was a good spectacle. Apart from seeing Mahe, having 40 boats out there racing was great to see."
Baker-Hogan said Rowing New Zealand would "definitely" be supporting the event again from 2022, "whether the Olympics go ahead or not".
"Working with Bayleys Whanganui Vintage Weekend just seems to be going really well."
A full list of results for the 2021 Billy Webb Challenge will be published in the Chronicle in the coming days.