Row Hard No Excuses is an award-winning documentary that chronicles the voyage of the only American entry in a rowing race across the Atlantic Ocean. It is both an exciting sports-adventure story and an intimate portrait of the two-man crew that explores masculinity, midlife and ambition.
At 51 and 41, John Zeigler and Tom Mailhot are among the oldest competitors to participate in the Atlantic Rowing Challenge, a three thousand mile race from the Canary Islands to Barbados. They spend three years and personal savings to make their dream of winning possible, but once on the water, they find the grueling crossing is easy to underestimate, and their quest offers one major obstacle after another. Drawing from their compelling video diary at sea, the film engages the audience in the emotional challenges and rewards of their arduous journey. With a camera on nearly every boat, a diverse chorus of other teams—men and women, young and old—adds context to a meditation on human endurance and perseverance in the most extreme conditions.
Directed by first time feature director Luke Wolbach, Row Hard No Excuses is a labor-of-love collaboration with his father, Bill Wolbach. “Row Hard No Excuses” is the slogan John and Tom wore on their t-shirts before the start of the race.
Ocean rowing, as a sport, has only been around since the inaugural Atlantic Challenge race in 1997. Before then crossings were strictly Guinness Book of World Record affairs. In fact, fewer people have rowed across the Atlantic than have climbed Mount Everest. Race rules pit two-person teams against each other rowing unassisted with no food drops or navigational aid. The challenge is an enormous undertaking even before the start. Each team has to gain their own sponsorship, see to the building and outfitting of their boat (which arrives as a plywood kit) and leave their jobs and families for a couple of grueling months at sea. Rowers have to contend with sleep deprivation, seasickness, isolation, boredom and cramped living conditions. Most of the competitors row naked to avoid painful chafing. Even with a steep entry fee and no prize money, Tom and John’s race drew thirty-six teams from fifteen nations including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, China, and eight European countries.
Luke Wolbach (Producer, Director, Camera, Editor)
Luke is an award-winning filmmaker and editor residing in San Francisco. His first film, Seeds of Tibet: Voices of Children in Exile, which he co-produced and co-directed, was a half hour documentary about the lives of young Tibetan refugees at a school in Northern India. It was broadcast by PBS affiliates throughout the country and was awarded an Earthwatch Award, a Cine Eagle Award and a documentary award at the Philadelphia International Film Festival. He has worked independently as an editor on projects that have broadcast on PBS, Bravo, and the National Geographic and Sundance channels. Row Hard No Excuses is his first collaboration with his father, Bill Wolbach.
Bill Wolbach (Executive Producer, Producer, Camera)
Row Hard No Excuses is Bill’s first film. In the past he has worked as tech support and as a consultant for financial institutions. More recently he turned his hobby and passion for motorcycles into a job as a BMW motorcycle technician. Active in his community, he has served on the board of directors at Boston’s South End Community Health Center for over twenty years. During his college years he rowed crew for Harvard and now gets his exercise in an ocean going single scull. It was through competitive paddling that he met Tom Mailhot and learned of the Atlantic Rowing Challenge. Though immediately drawn to the event, he decided to make this documentary rather than enter.
Directed by Luke Wolbach
Produced by Bill Wolbach & Luke Wolbach
Edited by Traci Loth & Luke Wolbach
Original Music by B. Quincy Griffin
Graphic Animation by Erik Dillinger
Executive Producer Bill Wolbach
With generous support from Lenny Lieberman
Tom Mailhot & John Zeigler
Tori Murden McClure
FEATURING (Other Teams)
Serge van Cleve
TORI MURDEN INTERVIEWER
POST PRODUCTION SOUND SERVICES
Robert Berke Sound, San Francisco
SUPERVISING SOUND EDITOR
Philo Television, San Francisco
Film Arts Foundation, San Francisco
FUNDED IN PART BY
Pacific Pioneer Fund
Paul Baker – vocals & guitar
Bryan Bowman – drums & percussion
Yair Evnine – guitar & cello
Lorenzo Farrel – bass
MUSIC SUPERVISION & CLEARANCE
David Wurzburg and Brooke Wentz at The Rights Workshop
Written by Ignacio Cano
Performed by Cafe Tacuba
Courtesy of Universal Music Group
Written by Jules Blattner and Josh Davis
Performed by UNKLE and DJ Shadow
Courtesy of Universal Music Group
Written by S. Buttrich, P. Bendtsen, H. Radeker
Performed by 18th Dye
Courtesy of 18th Dye
Written by Joel Cadbury, Richard File, James Lavelle, James McDonald, and Brett Shaw
Performed by UNKLE with South, Courtesy of Music Beyond
John Zeigler (Rower)
John was just a teenager when he first dreamed of rowing the Atlantic. Born and raised in New Jersey, he is the father of two girls. Every morning at 4:00 am, he and his brother, Danny, open the doors to their food wholesaling business, which he started with his father in the mid-1980s. A self-described fitness fanatic, John is a marathon canoe racer with rugged good looks and the upper body of a football player. His decision to pursue the race was the last straw that ended his marriage.
Tom Mailhot (Rower)
Tom, a New England native, is an ex-minor league hockey player whose career was stopped short by an eye injury. He has since become an accomplished kayak adventurer. His tall physique, unkempt blond hair and bushy moustache give him the look of a modern day pirate. He has an intense gaze that masks a mischievous sense of humor. Tom was laid off from his job as a construction supervisor for putting too much energy into building the boat and ended up deeply in debt as a result of the race.
Tori Murden (Tom and John’s coach)
Tori is the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic and Tom and John’s unofficial advisor. Her successful crossing came after two failed attempts, one that was cut short by hurricane Danielle, which nearly killed her. She has written a thesis on the theology of adventure and her spiritual outlook introduces a different perspective on the race.