Rowing the World with Ruth Marr

RTW guides Catriona and Alessandro in Venice with founder and president Ruth Marr (right).
RTW guides Catriona and Alessandro in Venice with founder and president Ruth Marr (right).

You’re on a road trip and pass a calm body of water. Instinctually, you declare: “That’s rowable.” Ruth Marr has made it her profession – and life’s passion – to find amazing places to row, and she’ll take you along on the next trip.

A member of Prairie Fire Rowing Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba since 2000, Marr is the founder and president of Rowing The World and The Rowing Concierge, which offers rowing travel experiences around the globe. Marr really encourages rowers to understand that there are amazing rowing experiences beyond racing. “Nothing against racing,” she says, “but too many North Americans think that this is all that rowing is about.” 

Reflecting on her years as a rower, Ruth Marr offers some insight into what it is about the sport, and travel, that keep her excited.

Being a novice rower in Saskatoon

Marr learned to row while a graduate student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “The first season I was in an eight. All the other rowers were members of the national volleyball team, which was based there and they wanted a summer sport. To say the least, I was the shortest rower at 5’8” and rather intimidated. Next season, a friend and I decided to take up sculling in a double. We had a blast – she would pick me up on a tandem bike, too.” 

15 years off, 18 years on

After graduate school and three years of rowing in Saskatoon, Marr moved to Winnipeg and took a 15-year hiatus from rowing. She grew into a passionate traveller and now boasts more than 25 years’ experience in the adventure travel and tourism industry. She was the co-founder and owner of Randonnée Tours Ltd. for 15 years, specializing in self-guided cycling and walking trips in Europe and North America. Marr also has extensive experience as a consultant specializing in tourism, active transportation, public consultation and environmental assessment. She is the author of two guidebooks and an active volunteer, especially in organizations supporting outdoor adventures, such as the Trans Canada Trail.

It was in early 2013, 13 years after joining Prairie Fire Rowing Club and reigniting her love of sculling, that Marr founded Rowing The World.

Find what you are passionate about and do it

There’s no secret, it’s rowing and travel that inspire Ruth to create memorable rowing travel experiences. While running Rowing The World is “very challenging business, I find it very creative,” Marr tells RowSource. “I have been a tour operator for over 20 years and love the lifestyle.”

It’s not only about racing

“It is largely all absolutely amazing when running Rowing the World trips. I love the pleasure that rowing travel gives the guests, the opportunity to enjoy the sport that we love in such beautiful and fascinating destinations (and eat all the fabulous food every night). I am privileged to meet interesting people that I partner with, especially my local guides.” 

When asked to chose her most memorable experience as a tour leader, Marr exclaims “That is too hard!” But she shares that a recent highlight was on a Cork + Carbery trip in Ireland.

“We worked with two local rowing clubs, plus three people from the community, whom had connections to rowing. It was an exploratory trip and we truly rowed where no one else had rowed before (have done that is several other places, by the way, quite thrilling). We were in coastal boats and one day we went out on the open Atlantic Ocean to row to a beach. Most of the guests had never tried coastal rowing before, and we ended up in big swells and waves. Some were nervous, but it was fabulous to see them gain confidence and ultimately love it.”

Asking Marr to pick her favorite place to row is like asking her to pick a favorite child. “It’s impossible to pick one place as my favorite to row. By definition we go to fabulous, beautiful places. Genuinely, it is wherever I am rowing at the moment. But if forced to answer … I have a special place in my heart for our rowing trips in South Africa, the country of my birth. Equally, in 2018 we ran our first trip in Canada, the country of my citizenship. It was in Prince Edward Island and absolutely spectacular.

But when she does race …

My most memorable race was winning a gold medal in the first annual Lantau Coastal Regatta in Hong Kong. I really had nothing to do with it. I was stopping for a few days in Hong Kong on the way to our Maldives rowing expedition. Local folks had promised a gentle warm up row. A few days before I arrived, they told me that instead we were going to a regatta and I would participate (apparently this was not a choice). I told them that this was a bad idea for all involved – it was February and I was not in race shape, especially less than 10 hours after getting off the flight across the Pacific from Canada. Anyway, they insisted that at least I could cox a quad on the coastal course. I did, they won, I was along for the ride.” 

Ruth Marr with her coxed quad crew at the Lantau Coastal Regatta.
Ruth Marr with her coxed quad crew at the Lantau Coastal Regatta.

This year, in celebration of her 60th birthday and as her first row of the season, Marr was able to join a crew in a coxed quad for La Traversée de Lyon, in France. The 30 km row on the Saône and Rhône Rivers in the center of Lyon was “absolutely fabulous! A good way to start the new decade!”

Finding balance

Marr spends about half the year traveling to row. “When on the road, there is nothing better,” Marr says. “Is it too boastful to say that my record is rowing in 12 different countries in one year?”

“But,” she admits, “being home is pretty sweet too. I love to cook, and share meals with friends. I am an avid cross-country skier in winter and also hike and bike as much as I can. There is also a great deal of pleasure in periodically lying on the couch and just reading a book.”


Find out more about Rowing the World trips in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia: