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Taking the fastest route to enjoying the River Cam rowing experience



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Cambridge Rowing Experience is democratising rowing and the experience is proving irresistible to the public, eager to get outdoors and enjoy exercising in the sunshine.

Omar Terywall, Cambridge Rowing Experience founder. Picture: Keith Heppell
Omar Terywall, Cambridge Rowing Experience founder. Picture: Keith Heppell

Operating out of the city’s oldest town club on the River Cam, the pitch is simple: you get to learn how to row in an eight in a couple of hours, and come back to the clubhouse for lunch. That’s the half-day experience.

If you have booked a full day you spend the afternoon out on the water too. In addition to the appeal of rowing on the Cam for the day, being part of an eight also promises to be a great bonding experience too. It is team-building at a time when teams have spent too long working in isolation.

For founder Omar Terywall, Cambridge Rowing Experience has been redemptive too. Like a lot of people, his business model was sunk when the pandemic began.

“I ran a direct marketing company, selling email data and running email campaigns for corporates,” says Omar over coffee on the clubhouse balcony of a sunny January morning.

Cambridge Rowing Experience helps people enjoy life on the Cam
Cambridge Rowing Experience helps people enjoy life on the Cam

“It was massively impacted by the GDPR regulations in 2018, so I decided to work with the Asian market, for conferences: I was running their campaign from Cambridge.

“In late October 2019, one of my biggest clients said ‘sorry, all events have been cancelled because there’s something going on in this part of the world that’s preventing people from meeting’.

“In 2020 I hit a bit of depression. My biggest market was one of the Cambridge China groups. At that point there was no government help for people like me.”

Omar was not idle: one of the things he did was to set up the Stolen Bikes of Cambridge Facebook group, which identifies, tracks and returns bikes stolen in and around Cambridge. The group has proved hugely successful.

“Someone from Camcycle had said ‘if you help others, you help yourself, and that’s very true’,” Omar says. Stolen Bikes has helped a lot of people – more than 200 bicycles have been recovered since its inception.

When lockdown ended the lure of the outdoors was strong.

Teaching an eight gets the best out of everyone
Teaching an eight gets the best out of everyone

“I got into rowing seven years back because I wanted to get my kids involved and it went from there,” Omar explains. “I had no backstory of rowing at the university. With the City of Cambridge Rowing Club it was: ‘I didn’t realise it was available to us mere mortals’.

“It takes four to six weeks to train someone to row in a team of eight, so it took me months to join a crew, I could see why it’s so tough, so I took on the captain’s role and that went on.

“During Covid, I realised I could teach someone to row in an eight-boat in one-and-a-half to two hours – it still takes four to six weeks to row to a decent standard.

“So I have four people rowing at one time, and the other four people are the stabilisers – it gets a lot more rocky with all eight trainees in one go, but I’m quite a good coach and quite a good cox, so even in 15 minutes I can have all eight rowing. It’s amazing for team-building, and for the eight to work it doesn’t matter if you’re small or big, weak or strong, you all have to work together.”

The City of Cambridge Rowing Club has first-class facilities
The City of Cambridge Rowing Club has first-class facilities

There are three eights available at City of Cambridge Rowing Club, so no more than 24 people in any one booking.

“They’re here for three hours usually, to have an enjoyable experience, to see Cambridge from a completely different perspective – that’s your bucket list done.

“People can approach any of the six town clubs in Cambridge and ask them to join, they get an instant membership.

“So far I’ve had nothing but five-star references. Usually I look for the quirkiest person in the group and I want them to leave smiling.

“Around 120 people a week are actively owing now. They go out every week or month in an eight-boat. I am a cox but also employ college coxes and coaches to help out. We entered three boats in the Town Bumps last year, three beginners teams. It’s become a really nice community.”



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