WHEN he took up rowing nine years ago, never did Des Nevitt think that one day he would become a British champion, nor that his rowing partner would be an Olympian.
‘I can’t really believe the things that I have achieved,’ he says.
It all started when he saw a friend’s post on Facebook asking for someone to join a crew. He had never rowed before but the prospect of it appealed. Since then, he has not looked back.
He was selected to represent Great Britain at this year’s World Beach Sprints Championships as a spare. There followed a silver medal in the 2022 British Beach Sprints Championships in the mixed doubles scull with fellow Jersey rower Laima Pacekajute and, in the same June weekend, a double scull gold medal at the British Offshore Championships with former Olympic rower Charles Cousins.
Beach sprint rowing is a new and fast-growing version of the sport that has been developed from the offshore coastal rowing Nevitt and members of the Jersey Rowing Club have become accustomed to on a small Island without large inland waterways.
While coastal rowing is a test of endurance, with races having a distance of four kilometres or more, beach sprints are competed over a shorter distance of 500 metres in a head-to-head knock-out format. It also involves a ten- to 50-metre sprint on the beach to and from the boat.
‘We’re still pioneering the sport,’ says Nevitt.
However, it was the Islander’s success in coastal rowing that led him to be invited to train and compete for Great Britain in the sprints, having won silver in the men’s single scull class at the 2021 British Rowing Offshore Championships – and he has taken little time to adjust to the different demands of the format.
‘There are totally different training styles. I’ve never been as much of a sprinter. I don’t know what it is. I’m still not but I’m obviously quite good at it. I still feel there’s a bit more there.’
Nevitt has put in the hard yards to get to where he is now in such a relative short space of time, but, as an amateur living in an isolated part of the British Isles, it is not always easy with his young family and his own stonemason business obviously his priorities.
There is no scope to turn professional but Nevitt hopes to keep himself at the top of his game with an eye on the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Australia in 2026, with beach sprints added to schedule for the first time. He is also prepared to play a mentoring role to any others who might succeed him.
‘I’m definitely not going to say no [to Victoria], but I would also like to think I could help younger guys get faster than myself. Whether they do or not is another thing.
‘I can use myself as a pace boat for them and if they start beating me we’ve got to be on to a good thing. I’m still going to fight for it because I will be around.’
Jean-Christophe Rolland, president of World Rowing, is pushing for both open-water coastal rowing and beach sprints to become part of the Olympic programme for the first time at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
‘The beach sprint is a discipline of the future, which can bring added value to the Olympic Games,’ said Rolland. ‘It’s fast, young, fun and innovative.’
The Jersey Rowing Club has certainly embraced this new variation, having sent a squad of four, including Nevitt, to the Commonwealth Rowing Beach Sprints in Namibia earlier this month. But their bread and butter remains offshore coastal rowing and, as a team, they have been punching well above their weight. Leading the way are Nevitt and Pačekajutė, two latecomers to rowing who have become the best in Britain in their discipline.
In the World Rowing Coastal Championships in Wales in October, both were leading rowers from the British Isles, with Nevitt crossing the finishing line in 13th in the men’s singles sculls and Pačekajutė in ninth in the women’s singles sculls.
Before rowing, Nevitt says he was quite a handy golfer but gave it up because the sport frustrated him. Then the rowing bug fully bit.
‘I started doing quads with the guys, then went to the doubles and we went down to Monaco in one of our first races together. We came first and the guys that won it, one was an ex-world champion and we just thought, already, we’re not even that far off and we haven’t had any coaching access.
‘I then went to singles in 2016 and I managed to get to the A finals at the Worlds. From there I just kept going.’
The highlight so far, though, says Nevitt, was racing with Cousins.
‘I met him in one of the events and I came first in a time-trial ahead of him. Everyone was a bit shocked, including myself. I ended up second in the competition against him in the final and he was just loitering around afterwards and I thought “I am just going to kick myself if I don’t ask him to jump in the doubles with me”. A week later he sent a message and said “yeah, let’s go for it.”
‘I’m learning a lot from him and that’s why I want to keep going.’
It has been an amazing journey for Nevitt – one that does not look like it is going to stop for a few years yet, even as he approaches his 40s. He is happy to take some time off now, before getting back into training in the new year and focus on achieving more success on the sea.
‘I can’t really believe the things that I have achieved. It’s been really good and it just shows if you want something, you can go and get it. You just got to work hard. And if think you might have to have something already go and push for it.’