A high-speed river race that has run for more than 40 years has attracted hundreds of people to South Australia’s Riverland region over the weekend, providing a much needed economic injection to the local area.

Key points:

  • The 2021 Riverland Dinghy Derby has provided a large economic boost to the regional area
  • People travelled from all over Australia, except WA, to take part and watch the unique river race
  • Competitors and volunteers are hoping to see more women participate in future years

The Riverland Dinghy Derby hosted more than 80 competitors from across Australia this year, with people travelling from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria just to take part in the extreme water sport.

“It’s a big achievement, I think, for the Riverland and it speaks volumes for the volunteers behind the scenes,” Riverland Dinghy Club president Scott Jenke said.

Riverland Dinghy Club president Scott Jenke says he is blown away by the support the Dinghy Derby continues to receive each year.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

Mr Jenke said a lot of work went into making the event COVID-safe, but it was worth it to see the town of Renmark’s streets packed with visitors.

“Locals have said to me they can’t believe some of the number plates they’re seeing from different states in the town and how busy it is again,” he said.

“We’ve got reduced capacity at [local food and accommodation] venues, but to see them all full and all the houseboats around the place nearly all booked out again — it’s a massive injection.”

In peak years, Mr Jenke said the event indirectly added around $1.4 million to the local economy, with a direct contribution of around $800,000.

“To be able to inject funds back into the Riverland at a time like this is pretty important,” he said.

Females to the front

For Kelsey Jones and Dylan Zanin, the annual road trip to the Riverland from the South Coast of NSW is a chance for the pair to put their dinghy-racing skills to the test and catch up with old friends.

Kelsey Jones and Dylan Zanin say the region’s welcoming atmosphere keeps them coming back.(Supplied: Dylan Zanin)

“We’re always out fishing, camping, adventuring and trying new things. I’ve always loved the water, so this sport ticks all the boxes, I love it,” Mr Zanin said.

As a female/male racing team, the duo who took part in their fourth Dinghy Derby this year are part of a slow-growing demographic of women competing in the male-dominated sport.

“Competing on the day is completely different to practising on the lakes [at home]. Through the creeks it’s crazy, so narrow, and there are logs everywhere.

“But it’s awesome being able to come and support the club again and shop local and support the regional areas.”

Bianca Jarrett is one of many people keen to see more female representation in dinghy racing.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

Riverland resident Bianca Jarrett has been volunteering at the event for almost a decade and competed once in the past.

“It is a bit scary … but I’d love to see more females getting out there and doing it,” she said.

“It’s just amazing to get everyone out there all together and it’s a great sport for the Riverland.”