If it is the last time, then "Mr Billy Webb" Mahe Drysdale will be determined to win the race that he made famous on the Whanganui River this December 2.

This year's event is the 10th anniversary of the start of the 5km Billy Webb Challenge races, which in turn commemorate the 1908 event where William 'Billy' Webb defended his world title on the Whanganui River in front of 25,000 spectators.

Having moved from a biennial – every two years – to an annual event in 2015, the future of the race is being reviewed after this seventh edition to see if it remains sustainable in its present form.

Event manager Kat Wade said they are interested "in partnering with other water sports to create a river festival type of event", of which the Billy Webb Challenge would then become part, rather than a stand alone rowing race with support races.


"Of course, it would be wonderful to see Mahe take out first place in the 10th Anniversary race, having taken part and supporting this event ever year over those 10 years, even in the middle of Olympic training."

Many world and Olympic champions, both male and female, have taken part over the seven challenges, but Drysdale has been the constant.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist has won four of them, with the other winners being fellow New Zealand world champions Hamish Bond (2014) and John Storey (2017), along with Germany's Tim Ole Naske (2016).

Mahe Drysdale has made the Whanganui River his own with four Billy Webb Challenge victories out of seven races.
Mahe Drysdale has made the Whanganui River his own with four Billy Webb Challenge victories out of seven races.

Storey is returning as the defending champion and is known locally as the New Zealand men's double sculls partner of Whanganui export Chris Harris.

They came into last year's race, which involved 27 boats, as the reigning world champions, with Canterbury's Storey determined to get the win after he had lost his chance the previous year due to a mid-race collision with Tauranga's Jordan Parry.

Drysdale was having his first competitive race in a year after taking a sabbatical following the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the exception of the 2016 Billy Webb.

He has come fourth and fifth in his last two attempts at the challenge, but unlike 2017, he has been very active training in the New Zealand men's quad sculls boat.

Storey and Harris had to settle for bronze at this year's world championships in Bulgaria after winning their first world title the year before, with the French and Swiss crews having now caught them up.


The other NZ Elite rower confirmed for Billy Webb, alongside Drysdale and Storey, is Matt Dunham, who races in the lightweight men's double with Ben van Dalen.

John Storey will return to defend his Billy Webb Challenge crown.
John Storey will return to defend his Billy Webb Challenge crown.

Two competitors who knew how Storey and Harris felt this year are Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue, the 2018 world championship bronze medallists who won gold in 2017 for the women's double scull.

Loe and Donoghue will race in the Women's Elite section of the Billy Webb, alongside the international guest in Lisa Scheenaard.

The 30-year-old Scheenaard comes from Eindhoven in the Netherlands and is a ten year veteran of the sport, having competed against Loe and Donoghue at the world championships in the double scull with partner Roos De Jong.

As well as the men's and women's trophies, the elite classes will be racing for prize money of $750 for first place, $500 second and $250 third.

In a reflection of the times, the previous size of the winner's cheques was $1000, which was last offered in 2016.

The Mitre 10 Future Champs Trust sponsors the Under 20 and Under 17 Female and Male grades, with the winners receiving a $100 cash prize.

"We will hit around 50 scullers on the water - which is a perfect number," said Wade.

In addition to the main race, there will be the support race of the Red Community 8's, of which there are four crews hitting the water for a 500m sprint - made up of beginners, novices and experienced rowers.

Wilkinson Smith Lawyers, Laser Plumbing, Whanganui District Council and Wanganui Collegiate Parents & Teachers are vying for the bar tab prize.

The first race on the water on December 2 will be the Whanganui Secondary Schools Waka Ama Challenge.

Waka ama crews from City College, Cullinane College and Te Kura o Kokohuia are taking part on the 400m sprint course, with the two fastest teams in qualifying racing each other in the final.

The challenge will be at 10am, followed by the Community 8's at 11am, and then the feature Billy Webb Challenge around 11.30am.

All of the start/finishline action will be captured on the big screen on Taupo Quay, as will footage from the half way point up at the Aramoho Wanganui Rowing Club.

As the last two year's of racing has shown, the turnaround is crucial with the best to execute it hard to catch on the downstream run for home.

Entries in any race or class are still open, but will close this coming Wednesday, November 28.