Whanganui’s proud rowing history comes to life in this legendary long-distance single sculling race!

The ‘Billy Webb’ commemorates New Zealand’s first professional single sculling world champion – William ‘Billy’ Webb’s defence of his World Title on the Whanganui River in 1908, before 25,000 spectators.

The only public sports event held in the Whanganui region that has hosted Olympic and World Champions, this annual event brings a buzz and excitement to the banks of the Whanganui river only ever seen in this race.


This 5km feature race takes place on New Zealand’s longest navigable river – Te awa o Whanganui. A beautiful course, this is a memorable, must-do experience for all water sport enthusiasts.

Rowing NZ endorsed the race as a platform for NZ elite athletes to promote and encourage rowing in provincial areas like Whanganui – this is where many of our World and Olympic Champs journey to the world stage began.


The Rigtec Billy Webb Challenge is open to rowers of any age or experience, allowing any rower to race.

Along with cash prizes, thanks to our principal sponsor Rigtec Engineering and the Whanganui Rowing Association, the winners of the Men’s and Women’s Open have their names engraved alongside previous challenge winners on stunning glass trophies made by renowned glass artists based out of Whanganui.

For men, the ‘Billy Webb Challenge Trophy’ is a glass waka created by Greg Hall, and for women, the ‘Philippa Baker Hogan Trophy’ is a glass whisper created by Katie Brown.


The Whanganui Rowing Association is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to facilitate the development and sustainability of rowing in the Whanganui region. To achieve these goals, the organisation relies on grant and corporate funding support.

In 2018, Mark Webb, the great-great-nephew of Billy Webb, bought Rigtec Engineering for a new challenge when he returned to New Zealand. Rigtec provides modern precision engineering and fabrication of professional rowing equipment, including boat rigging, accessories and storage systems. Mark had been building Formula 1 cars in the UK and Europe and could see Rigtec’s potential and loved that Rigtec provided parts to all the clubs and schools of New Zealand.

In 2019, Mark read about the Billy Webb Challenge in the Oarsport magazine. It triggered a memory about having a rower in his family that was ‘quite good! Mark’s family confirmed that Billy Webb is, in fact, his great-great-uncle!

Mark connected with us, and we created the sponsorship partnership to involve Mark in his great-great-uncle’s legacy. “It was pretty clear to me that Billy Webb is a rowing icon, and we should always remember his achievements. Rigtec Billy Webb Challenge is something I am immensely proud of and that I enjoy coming to Whanganui to watch” says Mark.

William Charles Webb – 1886 – 1960

He became the first New Zealander to win the world professional single sculls title when he beat Australian Charles Towns on the Parramatta River in Sydney, by five lengths in 1907 covering the demanding three-mile course in 20min 45sec.

Webb, who won 1,000 pounds for his Sydney victory, defended the title by two and three-quarter lengths on the Whanganui River in 1908 against twice Australian champion Richard Tressider, before 25,000 spectators including premier Sir Joseph Ward.

Later that same year Richard Arnst (Akaroa) de-throned Webb by six lengths on the Whanganui River and in 1909 held off a Webb title challenge by three lengths on the same river.

Webb, who rowed for the Union Boat Club, won the NZ amateur singles in 1903 and 1906, the NZ amateur doubles in 1905 and 1906 and the NZ professional singles in 1915.

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