The history of rowing at Takapuna Grammar School - Where and when it all began? By John w Beck

Takapuna Grammar School (TGS) was founded in 1927 as a co-educational secondary school. The history of rowing at TGS began, in fact, as early as 1937, when Mathematics master, Mr Short, joined a meeting of the Auckland Secondary Schools’ Rowing Association that had been formed a year earlier, by Mt Albert Grammar and Sacred Heart College. So TGS became a rowing school.

TGS rowers had almost immediate success – in both 1939 and 1940, the TGS 1 st IV won at the Head of Harbour Regatta which was raced alongside Tamaki Drive in those early days. The 1 st IV won again in 1945 and the crew included Eric Thorrington (#3 seat). In 1955, what was known as the Open Fours race was also won by a TGS crew.

In 1952, Malcolm Iversen, later a significant influence in the formation of TGS Rowing Club (Inc), rowed in a schools’ regatta on the Waikato River at Mercer, in the North Shore Rowing Club colours. The lads were subsequently told by the Headmaster, Mr Dellow, that they had not had permission to claim to row “in the name of Takapuna Grammar School” and they were “not to do it again”!! Interestingly, four oars that had been purchased the previous year were reputedly, on the orders of the school’s Board of Governors, sold to fund the purchase of music stands for the TGS Music Department.

Rowing flourished briefly on and off again whenever a staff member was keen to boat a crew. Mr Rob Donald had supervised a four-oar crew in the early 1960s. John Beck, coach of the 1 st XV rugby team in the 1970s, formed a number of TGS crews – most were members of the 1 st XV during their summer off-season. Chris Sutcliffe of the North Shore Rowing Club coached these crews – a number being very successful in Club and the few schools’ regattas that were run at that time. In the 1973 and 1974 eights crews, Conrad Robertson was the stroke and Matt Korn (who when on to be a TGS rowing coach from 2005 to 2014) was in 7 seat. They won Bronze at the Maddi Cup Regatta in the Under 17 VIII in 1975.

Conrad Robertson continued rowing for the North Shore Club when he left school and was in the New Zealand World Champion coxed four in 1983 and then won an Olympic gold medal in the Coxless Fours at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

Juliette Drysdale (nee Haigh when she rowed at TGS) became the second TGS Olympic medal winner at the London Olympic Games in 2012, winning a bronze in the Womens’ Pair Oar. Later, a Red Coat (NZ Champion) was won by former TGS rower Keith McRobbie.

In 1983, the then Headmaster, Mr Jack Kelly (a former All Black) asked Geography teacher John Beck to be Teacher-In-Charge of a new TGS Rowing Club that was to be formed. Malcolm Iversen, by then the father of two children at TGS, and his wife Barbara had approached Mr Kelly and pointed out that they as well as Mrs Colleen Tonei, who also had a daughter at TGS, were all prepared to coach crews. All three were experienced rowers and John had rowed for four years at University and had formed rowing crews at TGS in the 1970s, as mentioned above.

A meeting of about 90 pupils and parents who were interested to row, was held at TGS on Monday 13 June 1983 and subsequently there was a meeting on 27 September 1983 of supportive parents. Both Dudley Storey, who had two children at TGS, and the highly regarded Eric Craies (a West End Rowing Club stalwart and coach of the NZ Eight at the 1950 Empire Games) were invited to attend and they made three very important suggestions:

  1. That the West End Rowing Club would welcome TGS boys to be affiliated with and based at that Club.

  2. That TGS girls could train and row from West End but could, sadly, not be members of what St George’s Rowing Club, to row in the red and white colours of the St George’s RC for a number of those early years.

  3. That a parents’ committee should be formed, and set up as Eric Craies had developed at Westlake BHS, to run the new TGS Rowing Club – a constitution for which was later promulgated, and the Club became an Incorporated Society in due course.

The concept of a Parents’ Committee, as developed by Eric Craies at WBHS, proved to be a masterstroke and the basis of the ongoing strength of the Takapuna Grammar School Rowing Club (TGSRC). The TGSRC has thrived continuously and very successfully, thanks to the dedication and hard work of parents and teachers-in-charge ever since that 1983 founding meeting.

And now some TGSRC highlights between 1984 and 1990.

  • In 1983 first skiff purchased, a Lightcraft IV, from the West End Rowing Club.

  • In 1984 TGSRC competed for the first time ever in the Maadi Cup Regatta. The Boys’ Under 17 IV of Bruce Pukepuke (Str), Ian Davidson, Keenan Jennings, Euan Cameron and cox Wayne Stables scored a convincing win in the Petite Final (9 th best in NZ).

  • In that first full 1983-1984 season of rowing TGS boated three boys’ eights and two girls’ eights.

  • 1983-84 Crews were:

    • Boys’ Senior VIII: Paul Dempsey (bow), Francis Carr, Hans Van Ess, Jonathan Mark, Paul Douglas, Alastair Cooper, Michael Claridge, Alan Stanton (str) and cox Tony Giblin.

    • Boys’ Intermediate VIII: Ben Norris (bow), Ian Harrison, Andrew Anderson, Andrew Hughes, Ian Davidson, Euan Cameron, Bruce Pukepuke, Keenan Jennings (str) and cox Wayne Stables.

    • Boys’ Junior VIII: Warren Doo (bow), Graham Bird, Darren Leith, Stuart McKay, Morris Andrews, Mark Sinclair, Andrew Booth, Richard Swan (str) and cox Clark Hight.

    • Girls’ Senior VIII: Susan Tabak (bow), Toni Solomon, Janine Iversen, Nikki Rayner, Lisa Fox, Phillipa Taylor, Jan Worrall, Robin Kellaway (str) and cox Joanne Copeland.

    • Girls’ Junior VIII: Megan Whittaker (bow), Deborah Tonei, Jenni Robertson, Sally Kellaway, Geraldine Brideson, Maxine Iversen, Robyn Mackie, Kim Rickard (str) and cox Annelies Chapman.

  • In January, 1985 the first ever TGS rowing camp at Camp Epworth on Lake Karapiro.

  • In 1985 TGS rowers attend their first ever Maadi Cup at Twizel in the South Island with our Under 17 Girls first in their final and Under 19B Boys coming third in their final.

  • Coaches in 1986 were Malcolm Iversen, Vic Dempsey, Lew Beck, Barbara Iversen and Colleen Tonei.

  • Fundraising was given a high priority in 1986 and consequently the TGSRC purchased a new KIRS IV the ‘Jack Kelly’, a new KIRS VIII – the ‘Garth Cameron’ and a new aluminium coaching boat and outboard motor.

  • The first ever TGS Maadi Cup Regatta gold medal was won in 1987 by the Boys’ Lightweight Four who became National Champions in 1987. They were Alastair Hill (4), Tim Harvey (3), David McLeod (2), Roland Harrison (bow) and Charles Felgate (cox), coach Lew Beck.

  • 1988 saw the Club attend its second South Island Maadi Cup Regatta. Having won a good number of races earlier in the season, hopes were high for success on Lake Ruataniwha. The TGS Girls’ Under 17 VIII and Girls’ Under 17 IV both won bronze medals to round off an excellent season. Denyse Johnston was stroke of both crews.

  • The 1988-1989 season turned out to be the most successful ever up until that time. The three boy scullers all won Maadi Cup Regatta medals and with the girls’ crews at Maadi achieving in the Under 15 VIII 2 nd , Under 16 VIII 1 st , Under 17 VIII 2 nd and Under 19 VIII 5 th . TGS was rated as the strongest co-ed rowing school in NZ.

  • In 1990 Jeffery Thomas was 1 st in the Senior Boys’ single scull and, with Zac Jacka, was 1 st in the double sculls at the North Island Secondary Schools’ Regatta on Lake Karapiro. They scored a silver medal in the double sculls at Maadi and Jeffery scored a bronze in the Under 19 single sculls.

The rowers in these first eight formative years set the tone and showed the way to success for all those many other crews that came after them representing Takapuna Grammar School. Since the formation of the TGSRC in 1983, the crews have been supported by wonderful coaches, dedicated rowing teachers and a host of the most marvellous parents – we thank and salute them all.

From 1984 to 1990


Malcolm Iversen, Barbara Iversen, Colleen Tonei, Eric Craies, Lew Beck, John Beck, Grant Aitken, John Taylor, Terrel Bradbury, Vic Dempsey, Robyn Kellaway, Colin Davie, Mark Borgveldt, Glenda, Rogers, Erwin Drok, Natalie Denton, Peter Kinley, Anna McNaughton, Bill Wiggle, Jenny Wiggle, Win Wrathall, Jo Wyeth, Ron Thomas, Dudley Storey, Lesley Elliott, Brian Allehy, Blair Aitken, Denyse Johnstone, Julie Dawson, Debbie Lynch, Kate Fisher, Rowan Carter, Tracey Lightbourne.

Club Presidents:

Faye Carr, Garth Cameron, Judy Kellaway, Maureen Calkin, Bill Wiggle, Dave Mountford, Rob McNaughton.

Teachers and Master-in-Charge:

John Beck, Terrel Bradbury, Grant Aitken, Pip McGeechan, Sue Poynter.