City News

Rowers take to Sydney Harbour for Christmas Day tradition

Rowers met at the Opera House for a Christmas Day row. Photo: Mark Tietjen.


Early on Christmas morning, while most are still having visions of sugar-plums, a group of die-hard rowers from across Sydney’s rowing clubs gathered at the Opera House for the annual Christmas Day row.

Waters beyond the Sydney Harbour Bridge are normally off-limits to rowers due to the busyness of the harbour. However, on Christmas Day when there is no commercial traffic on the harbour before the first ferry at 6:50 am, Sydney’s rowing clubs journey to this part of the harbour to experience the stunning views from the water.

“We all congregate out the front of the Opera house,” Glebe Rowing Club President Mark Tietjen said. “Which when you’re in such a small rowing boat is quite an amazing feeling.”

Some rowers take the Christmas spirit to another level, wearing Santa costumes and kicking off the day with a glass of champagne. 

The festivities conclude with an informal race to the Harbour Bridge before the first ferries arrive. The race this year was won by Glebe with “a very comfortable handicap”. Rowers normally head home by a quarter to seven.

“It’s early,” said Mr Tietjen, “which is probably why people go, because they can do it and be home in time for Christmas with their families.”

Photo: Mark Tietjen.

Mr Tietjen has attended the Christmas Day row every year since 2009.

“The numbers vary from year to year,” he said. “But this year I was quite surprised by the number of boats that were out.” 

This year’s race was joined by around thirty boats from various Sydney rowing clubs, as well as school rowing clubs. Some rowers feared that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases would prevent the race from going ahead. 

“It’s a lot of fun, even though all you’re really doing is rowing to the Opera House and back. It’s just something special.”

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