What is punting?
Punting for fun
Punts are an instantly recognisable type of traditional river boat: long and narrow, with a flat bottom and square-cut ends, propelled along using a pole.
Originally designed for fishing or ferrying cargo in shallow water, from the 1860s onwards they became a popular choice for Victorian pleasure boaters on rivers across England. To this day, you'll find puntfuls of tourists and students jostling for space on the rivers of Oxford and Cambridge each summer.
The racing of punts for sport developed out of wagers between professional boatmen, and grew in popularity from the early 1880s. Most races take place either in wooden "2-foots" (only slightly narrower than leisure punts) or much narrower "best boats" (often made of fibreglass), with solo competitors or doubles pairs racing against each other head-to-head.
Each punter has a lightweight metal racing pole, which they use both to push their boat forwards and to steer it. At either end of the course are vertical "ryepecks" in the river which the boats must reverse past, with a standard race consisting of 2 or 4 lengths.
These days, all racing takes place on the Lower Thames, with about half a dozen active clubs between London & Reading. (The TPC does not have a club house or any boats of its own.)
The clubs offer both regular training and one-off outings, as well as an array of social events throughout the year. Once you've got the hang of the basics, new punters are encouraged to have a go at a novice race in one of the many inter-club regattas that take place on weekends through the summer.
The traditional highlight of the annual racing season was always the Amateur Championships, organised by the TPC each August. The event was first held in 1886, and for most of the last century has taken place on the east bank of the Thames in Maidenhead, just south of the railway bridge at the end of River Road (SL6 0BG).
Unfortunately, various difficulties have meant that it's not been possible to hold the event since 2018... but we are working on plans to resurrect it! In the meantime, here is some footage from the 2018 Champs to whet your appetite...