Nicole van Wyk goes tops to become the 2016 HPC High Performer

Nicole HPCHPNicole van Wyk (Tuks Rowing ) won the HPC High Performer of the day award on the Roodeplaat Dam at the John Waugh Rock the Boat Regatta on Saturday.
Van Wyk is a rising star in South African rowing. She has already represented South Africa at the World Junior Championships, the World Student Championships and the World Student Games.
According to the formula which is based on working out a percentage that compares the winning time of each crew to of their respective age group or category, Van Wyk’s time of 8:10:90 (96,34) in the lightweight women’s single sculls was considered to be the best.

Shuan and Lawrence

Shaun Keeling and Lawrence Brittain (Tuks/HPC) made sure that they were the best men’s crew with their time of 6:44:19 (95.14%) which was also the second best performance on the day.

Last year’s bronze medallists at the World Championships, Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler (Tuks/HPC), set the third best overall performance of the day with a time of 7:16:00 (95.18%).
What made their result even more special is the fact that Grobler celebrated her 36th birthday on Saturday. She proved that, in spite of sometimes being called ‘tannie’ by younger rowers, getting older is no handicap.
When asked about her goal for 2016 the 20 year old Van Wyk immediately said she wanted to medal at the World Under-23 Championships.

“I need to improve by about five seconds to have a realistic chance of medalling. As far as I am concerned it is definitely doable.”

At school it was a case of ‘name the sport’ and there was a good chance that Van Wyk would excel in it, but rowing has always been her favourite.
“What I like about rowing is that it gives me an opportunity to test myself to the limit and that is exciting. It is also a privilege to train with rowers who have already qualified for the Olympic Games.
“You won’t easily find more dedicated athletes than the Olympic rowers and they are not shy to share their experience with youngsters.”

Lawrence Brittain’s performance was the feel-good story of the day. At last year’s regatta he was a mere spectator due to the fact that he was suffering from Hodgkin’s disease, also known as cancer of the lymph node. There were no guarantees that he would ever be able to row competitively again, but people close to him knew that he was no quitter and he proved them right.

He has already represented South Africa at last year’s World Championships and is in strong contention to be in the men’s pair boat that will compete at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Keeling said what he most like about the regatta is that school kids get the opportunity to race against the elite rowers.

“When I was at school I would have loved to have such an opportunity because of the racing format the younger rowers have a realistic chance of beating Olympians and that comes with big bragging rights.”
The John Waugh Rock the Boat Regatta is a concept that was brought to life by James Thompson and Matthew Brittain, two of HPC’s Olympic gold medal winners at the 2012 Olympic Games.


The two Olympians are quite excited about how popular the regatta turned out to be. When it was started four years ago we had about 300 rowers competing. Saturday there were nearly 1000 rowers on the water, testing each other to the limit.

Who will be hunting for the HPC high Performer award tomorrow?

The John Waugh Rock the Boat Regatta at Roodeplaat Dam is a very special event, because sports fans don’t often get the opportunity to test their skills against Olympian or World Champion medallists.

This regatta that takes place tomorrow (6/02) is probably the only event that offers average rowers a fair chance of earning ‘bragging’ rights that they have managed to beat the likes of John Smith (Tuks/HPC), an Olympic and World Championship gold medallist, or Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler (Tuks/HPC crew), bronze medallists at last year’s World Championships. All three of them, as well as all the other rowers who have qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio, will be in action. Elite rowers do get beaten. Last year an under-16 girls’ crew of St Mary’s School was the overall winner and in 2013 an under-16 crew of KES won overall.

ursula and kirsten3



In 2014 John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu, both Olympic gold medallists, successfully defended the elite rowers’ honour. The John Waugh Rock the Boat Regatta is a concept that was brought to life by James Thompson and Matthew Brittain, two of HPC’s Olympic gold medal winners at the 2012 Olympic Games.

In layman’s terms, the formula to work out who wins overall is based on working out a percentage that compares the winning time of each team to the world record of their respective age group or event.

“This handicap system makes it possible for any age group or gender to win the coveted HPC High Performer of the Day award,” explained Thompson.

According to the formula last year’s winning time (7 minutes 45.30 seconds) set by the St Mary’s under-16 team converted to 95.83% of the Rock the Boat 100% time. Put into perspective it should be mentioned that the Olympians, John Smith (lightweight) and Shaun Keeling (heavyweight), teamed up to win their category in a time of 6:55.31. This converted to 93.52% which was only good enough for third overall.1781886_10152479092302030_5512602137310016095_n

Thompson is excited about the number of crews that will compete. “We have 230 entries, which means that about 1 000 rowers will compete. This is very exciting. The whole idea of the regatta is to create awareness for rowing as a sport.

“As far as our top rowers are concerned there will be quite a few Olympic and World Championship medallists. The reason why the top rowers are competing is that it is one of only a few regattas where they are guaranteed to be tested to their limit.

“John (Smith) will be rowing in a single boat while Ursula and Kirsten will team up. The men’s pair rowers will resume their battle to earn a place in the boat that has qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio. Their problem is that only two of them will be able to go.”

Raising the bar, again – The BestMed Recovery Zone

Rock the Boat is proud to announce the launch of the Bestmed Recovery Zone for the 2016 regatta! World class racing for any athlete is what we aim to bring to South African rowing and the addition of the Bestmed Recovery Zone now further entrenches our event as the benchmark in this regard.

The time trial is just the appetizer and any athlete that wants to deliver their best race in the final needs to use the time between racing wisely.

What does the Bestmed Recovery Zone offer?

  • Some athletes prefer to get their engines going a bit before they get on the water and so we have ergos and stretching mats in the shade for them.
  • After the time trial there will be Ice Baths to flush the muscles and an athletes pool for those that just need to escape the Pretoria heat.
  • For the racing snakes there is a complimentary recovery rub down area staffed by professional sports masseuses, courtesy of Bestmed.
  • Bestmed will have staff on hand throughout the day to answer any questions from athletes, parents or spectators. So pop into the Bestmed stand right in front of the recovery zone.
  • Together with Bestmed we will be running a water drop to be distributed to those areas in South Africa that are still running dry. See details bellow. All unsold water from Rock the Bar will be donated to this great cause.BM Pam

Let’s hear what previous Rock the Boat winners have to say…

With just less than 1 week to go to Rock the Boat 2016, we thought we’d ask some of the crews who have truly rocked this event over the last few years for their take. Book your spot now to be part of the 2016 event on 6th February…. and we will see you there!

2013 HPC High Performer – Byron Sprat



What was it like racing the first John Waugh Rock the Boat?
Racing the first Rock the Boat was a great experience. It was fun but a really tough race. It’s a great idea and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so!

Did you know how it was going to work?
No, at first we had no idea what was going on so our strategy was just to come down the course with a smile and a then empty the tanks in the sprint.

Did you expect to win the HPC High performer? 
We honestly did not expect it but that finals race was good. I think that the absence of large amounts of pressure meant that it just came easy to us.

2014 HPC High Performer – John Smith – Batman and Robin



Having raced and won regattas all over the world, have you ever raced anything like Rock The Boat before?

Rock the Boat is a unique regatta and the race format is nothing like what I have ever raced before. To race purely on speed and not in boat class is a great idea for everyone in rowing.

Making the #JWRTB final in the double is quite an achievement, then you went head-to-head with some varsity 8’s to win the overall. Tell us a little about the race?
We were chuffed to make the final and we knew the eights would be a bit quick for us but our heavy men’s pair was close on their heels. With a lot of banter before the race we knew it was going to be a close one. So we focused on putting down a good race and going out with a high tempo. This we did and found ourselves fighting to hang on to a coxless four. If you’re fighting then you’re winning. We were on the limit and what we thought would be a good race with the men’s pair on the far side was now one way traffic for them. We were in the mix with a four and coming home strong; a big sprint lead by Sizwe and backed up by me. We finished knowing we had a good race but to come out on top of the pile always makes us happy.

We believe 2014 Rock the Boat is the last time you raced with Sizwe? What is the plan now for you two going forward to the Rio Olympics? 
I don’t believe it was the last time we raced together as I think we raced in the combination at an international regatta in Italy. Sizwe is involved in qualifying a Heavies men’s four for Rio. I am currently rowing in the LM2x with James Thompson. Not the tallest man but very strong. We have qualified our double and are currently training like slaves with one thing in mind. One goal…

2015 HPC High Performer – Reitumetse Mokgele, Cox of the WatermelonsHPC High Performaers Winners 2015 - 2


What was the best part of the 2015 Rock the Boat Regatta?

The best part of the regatta was that it was not only competitive but fun as everyone was dressed up in hilarious outfits. It was quite funny to see the photos of us rowing in our brightly coloured tutus.

Your quad dominated most of the 2015 season, did you enjoy the chance to race against some first quads?
It was exciting to be able to compare ourselves to first quads especially because everyone in our crew is very competitive. We raced next to a sculler who pretty much kept up with our quad the whole way down the course so we were very surprised with our final win. During the race, it was weird to call a push 10 to my quad so that we could pull ahead of a scull. It was quite interesting to see where we placed against other boat classes.

So there’s a taste of the action for you, folks. Enter now and come and be part of the action!

The Rock the Boat story: how it all began

Rock the Boat 2017 promises to be a rowing regatta like no other; where no matter who you are, what your rowing experience, gender or age, you will get the chance to race head-to-head with some of South Africa’s rowing champions. So how did this unique regatta come about? Here’s the Rock the Boat story.

Rock the Boat

A rowing event with a new energy

Matthew Brittain and I had the privilege of racing all over the world and we also took to our mountain bikes for a few epic races too. We spent hours comparing and analyzing events while on tours and started to see a massive opportunity in the rowing space for an event with a new energy.

Learning from our experience

Our experience competing for South Africa gave us a unique insight into the sport and we knew that a world class race is not about sitting on a start line staring at a row of international flags. Rather, a truly world class race is when you come into the last quarter of a race with all the boats in a line and every athlete simultaneously realises two opposing thoughts in their mind; firstly, that it is possible to win, and secondly that to achieve this victory an athlete must immediately perform a desperate search of their soul to find the necessary courage to overcome the pain associated with true victory. We knew that this scenario is what athletes of all abilities crave and we started to think about how we could create this with a new rowing race format.

Dreaming big

We brainstormed and dreamed big. We also started cherry picking ideas from other events we had participated in and enjoyed. We wanted to bring the excitement of bow ball to bow ball racing to the biggest field we could. Our first regatta in 2013 had 250 participants and honestly we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but had some great people helping us through the process.

What makes Rock the Boat unique..

The racing format of Rock the Boat is what sets it apart from other rowing regattas and, more importantly, what gives it the great atmosphere you can expect and vibe. It is the only event that allows people to race against those who are outside of their own age group or boat class. It creates an environment of unknowns, whether it is the inter-club rivalry, or a chance for the girls to show boys who is really faster, anything can happen.

We also love that it’s the only regatta that ends with a clear pecking order, so all the duals enjoyed throughout the day, all have to stand up and be counted! The final result gives just one crew the bragging rights for the year of having been the best of the best and crowned the HPC High Performer.

Will you be joining us?

Rock the Boat 2017 promises to be even bigger and better than ever. Enter now and join us on the 4th February for the rowing regatta like no other. We look forward to seeing you there.

5 questions with Rock the Boat founders, James Thompson and Matthew Brittain

With only a month to go until we kick off Rock the Boat 2016, we thought we should ask two of our South African Olympic Champions a few questions. Read on…. and book your spot for the regatta of the year.

James Thompson and Matthew Brittain

The moment the Olympic dream came true

1. What makes Rock the Boat such a one-of-a-kind rowing event?

It’s unique simply because it brings world-class racing to every athlete. We rank boats according to speed, not according to age, gender or boat class as is traditional which means you get an incredibly vibey event where a school girl eight can line-up against a smaller boat containing senior international standard athletes.

Think about how much a young crew can learn by competing stroke for stroke down the course against more experienced athletes and how much better the race is for those outliers that have been consistently winning or losing throughout the season and now suddenly find themselves having to dig deep in a real race.

2. What are you guys up to now?

James: I am lucky enough to be chasing the Olympic dream full-time at the moment. After four years in the lighty four we have embraced a new challenge and will be hunting for gold in the lightweight double.

Matt: I’m working for Sanlam in London whilst dreaming of sunnier shores in SA!

3. James, how is prep for Rio 2016 going?

The first two years in the double have been a very different challenge to the previous Olympic cycle in the lightweight four. John and myself work well together and have been very consistent and ruthless in our training. While fourth at the World Champs was not what we had hoped for, we have got Olympic qualification out of the way and we’re now completely focused on putting a good Olympic season together.

4. What’s the most valuable advice anyone has ever given you when it comes to rowing?

James: At first learn how to train, learn when to push hard and when to back off the pressure and think more. If you learn how to train really well, improved performances and results will come with time.

Matt: Focus on being as fast as you can be and the rest will be fine

5. Tell us about the day you guys won Gold…

James: It’s hard to explain the emotions and feelings that come back thinking about that day. I think we had done a fantastic job of staying in the zone and focusing on the process in the whole build-up to the regatta, generally down-playing the enormity of everything going on around us.

There were many incredible moments in the whole Olympic experience, such as the podium or arriving back at OR Tambo. But for me the focus and execution in the moments that mattered the most is what I look back on with pride.

I remember as we came into the final 300m, I was still really strong and had really good power but the crowd was crazy loud. I remember thinking with 200m to go, 20 big strokes could win this. No matter if it’s at a small local race or on the biggest stage in the world, that is always an incredible feeling.

Matt: Gee, that was a great day. It started with a very poor night’s sleep for all of us, a nervous start and our worst warm-up of the regatta but we got our nerves under control and were able to execute an amazing race. I remember sitting on the start line trying to play down the event in my mind and focus rather on just making the first five strokes the most explosive strokes humanly possible. We went through the halfway mark in the pack and knew that we had a great chance of a medal because our sprint was amazing.

We started cranking it up and were already moving back on the Danish leaders when we really opened the taps for the final sprint. I remember screaming the call to give everything for the line (“GOLD!”) and then just doing my best to keep up with Sizwe who was going crazy in the stroke seat. Although there was no greater moment than the realisation as we crossed the finish line that we had managed to come through in the final few strokes to clinch gold, there were hundreds of other amazing ones such as singing the anthem in front of our families and the SA flag as well sharing the story with as many people as would hear it.

Keen to be part of all the Rock the Boat action? Come and join us on 6th February 2016.

What can we expect at Rock the Boat 2016?

Whether you are keen to participate or you want to join in the vibe and come and watch all the action, here is what you can expect from Rock the Boat 2016.

A final start

The biggest and best yet

We have really gone all out for the 2016 event. The 2016 edition of the John Waugh Rock the Boat will be our biggest yet. We are still growing at a rapid rate and are planning to go through the one thousand athlete mark this year. Have you entered?

Jeppie 8

Our new Rock the Boat website

We are proud to have launched our new website which we hope will be the hub of the event as it grows now and in years to come. This year all entries, draws and results will be posted immediately onto the website for easy viewing on your mobile phone.


Comentary on the jettyMore vibe than ever for the spectators

Aside from the guarantee of an absolutely awesome race for our athletes we have the best commentators in South African rowing. We will be expanding our running of on-the-water commentary for more of the finals this year. The interviews we have lined up with experienced athletes and coaches will also provide a deep insight into the sport.

All of this can be enjoyed from the waterside beer garden, along with some live music and sundowners after prize giving. There will also be a recovery zone, shops and our Rock the Bar event with DJ – all designed to make being on the bank a pleasure.

Beer garden

The new boats from John Waugh Racing Boats

For athletes and coaches, John Waugh will have their new coxless and coxed fours on display for the first time, so come along and take a look.

John Waugh Rock the Boat website launch

Be a part of the action: #rocktheboatsa

On Instagram? Share your pics of you and your crew training for Rock the Boat 2016 and, of course, all the fun and games of race day itself. Follow us on Instagram and tag your pics – #rocktheboatsa.


We are working to blow you away with this year’s Rock the Boat event. Enter now to make sure you have your seat.