Photo: Delly Carr

Rupert Guinness at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre

Deon and Oscar Birtwistle (above) are separated by 23 years as father and son, but when rowing they are equal as crewmates.

On water in the lightweight Coxless Four, all that separates them are the two other crewmates who sit between them.

With Oscar, 19, in the stroke seat and Deon, 42, in the bow, the pair were in the North Esk crew that placed second in the Open Lightweight Men’s Coxless Four at the Australian Rowing Championships at Champion Lakes, Perth, on Saturday.

The Tasmanian crew will back up on Sunday to represent their State in the Interstate Championships in which they will race in the Men’s Lightweight Coxless Four and Penrith Cup.

Sunday’s Penrith Cup race will be Deon Birtwistle’s fourth. He has twice been in winning crews (including in his 2003 debut) and placed third once. Sunday will also mark his son’s debut.

Does Birtwistle, a 2003 World Championship Lightweight Quad Scull Silver Medallist and 2002 Gold Medallist in the boat at the Under 23 World Rowing Championships, regard his son just as another crewmate when on the water?  

“We both do,” Birtwistle said. “Before a race he’s a typical 19 year-old … late to some things, can’t find his gear. I’m doing the fathering right to the boat. Then he’s doing the athlete and I’m just hanging on. 

“He’s putting the power in and quality. The crew enjoy him in the stroke seat. I’m proud he’s got that skill level and ability.”

Saturday’s lightweight Coxless Four Final on the last day of the national titles provided a thrilling taste of what might unfold in the Penrith Cup, with five finalists representing five States.

The race was won by the Charlie Moore-stroked Adelaide University Boat Club crew from South Australia in 6:28.32s. But the Birtwistles and their North Esk crewmates were only 0.32s behind in second. Third at 1.18s was the Swan River-Fremantle crew at 1.18s.

Birtwistle said the Tasmanian crew had taken a lot from the race. “We’ve already started started thinking about what we need to do in the middle of the race and especially towards the end,” he said straight after Saturday’s race.

“That was a good test of any to find out what we can do, but also where everyone else is pushing and what they’re thinking about. We’ve got to get a few things ready to go.”

Birtwistle is obviously motivated by winning, but also by knowing he is an integral part of his crew’s development.

Asked what motivates him to continue rowing at this level, Birtwistle said: “Just watching these guys … if I can be any part of them achieving the best of themselves, that’s what drives me every single stroke, every stroke is the last stroke.” 

Birtwistle’s experience in so many champion crews have also helped him throughout this latest Tasmanian campaign.

“You carry all those experiences with you into the boat,” he said. “Through that race [on Saturday], my mind was flickering back to some of those moments. You can bring that quality to your own rhythm, your own stroke. That comes out in the crew and they have their own approach.”

Other final winners on Saturday were:

  • Open Men’s Quad Scull: Griffith University- Surfers Paradise
  • Open Women’s Coxed Eight: University of Queensland-QAS
  • Open Men’s Coxed Eight: Melbourne University-VIS –
  • Open Women’s Quad Scull: UTS Haberfield-Melbourne University-Adelaide
  • Open Lightweight Men’s Coxed Eight: Toowoong Composite
  • Open Women’s Lightweight Double Scull: Sydney University-TIS
  • Open Men’s Lightweight Quad Scull: Toowong Composite-VIS