First Degree FItness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing MachineThe First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Fluid Rower is a water resistance rower from First Degree’s ‘Horizontal Series’ of rowing machines.  It’s fairly compact unlike other water resistance rowing machines, but it still packs the same kind of punch the other bigger (and pricier) models have.

It has a sturdy design, which is backed by a solid manufacturer’s warranty.  The resistance is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and it provides a very smooth rowing experience.   It’s an overall solid rowing machine (as evidenced by the 4+ star rating) that leaves little to be desired, but it does have a few shortcomings. Read the rest of the review for the full scoop!

Table of Contents
(click a title to jump ahead!)

1. Resistance Type
2. Monitor/Control Panel
3. Build Quality
4. Comfort
5. Storage
6. Capacity
7. Dimensions
8. Assembly
9. Pros and Cons
10. Consumer Reviews
11. Warranty
12. Price

Resistance Type

The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR is a water resistance rowing machine that uses a water flywheel (paddles suspended in a tank of water) to provide resistance for the machine.

To find out more about water resistance rowers and how they compare to the other resistance types read the following article: rowing machine resistance types.

As mentioned in the previous article, the resistance is similar to air resistance because the amount of resistance is determined by your rowing intensity; if you row with low intensity you feel little resistance and if you row with high intensity you feel more resistance.  In addition to variable resistance based on the user’s rowing intensity, adjusting the water level in the water tank can modify the “feel” of the rowing stroke, giving you more options with your workout.

Don’t be concerned about the “chore” of adding and subtracting water to the water tank, users commented on how extremely simple the process is with the included siphon.

A unique feature that’s included on the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is an adjustable resistance water tank.  This allows the user to adjust the amount of resistance they feel when rowing by automatically adjusting the amount of water that’s “used” when rowing.

First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR ReviewIt’s similar to a weight stack on various workout machines in the gym.  For example, let’s say you’re working out on a weight machine at the gym and you get to choose the amount of resistance based on your fitness level.  Before you start your workout, you select the amount of weight you want to use by pushing a button or moving a little metal key.  The weight that is not being used by you during the workout remains attached to the machine (kind of like it’s in storage for future use by another user) while the weight you are using moves along with you because the weights are being used.

Same principles apply with the adjustable water tank, this gives the rower the ability to choose how much water is being used in the tank for their workout; while the remaining water that’s not being used is put in a separate storage compartment of the tank for future use.

The resistance adjustment is made by simply turning a knob on the water tank.  This feature is uncommon on other water resistance rowing machines, which makes it unique.

People would expect the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine to be noisy but that’s far from the truth.  Most water resistance rowing machines provide a relaxing sound of splashing water and that’s the case with this rower too.  Users loved how the sound was therapeutic and soothing to the point that it pushes them to keep rowing just to keep hearing the water splashing.

They also loved how quiet it is at the ‘same time’, plenty of users commented on how they’re able to watch television with normal volume while rowing, which speaks volumes on how quiet the noise level is on the Challenge AR rower.

Users of all ages and fitness levels have used this rower and commented that they were able to get the perfect workout they were looking for.  Whether it was to push their body to the maximum level or just get a light sweat going, the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine fit the bill with no issues.

As mentioned earlier, this is due to the water resistance and how the user determines most of their resistance based on their rowing intensity.  In addition, the patented adjustable resistance function on the water tank makes it easy to further adjust the resistance compared to traditional water rowing machines.

Users also commented on how it’s ideal for interval training such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and crossfit training.  The transitions from intense rowing to a slower rowing pace are extremely smooth because there’s no herky-jerkness when switching speeds, something that’s common with air resistance rowing machines.

Monitor/Control Panel

The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has a multifunctional performance monitor that tracks various fitness data such as:

  • Time
  • Distance
  • 500m split time
  • Strokes per minute
  • Calories per hour
  • Watts
  • Interval training
  • Optional heart rate reception

First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine MonitorAll fitness data are displayed separately in their own windows on the face of the workout monitor and the size of the text is fairly large so you shouldn’t have any difficulty reading the data while you’re working out.

There are three buttons on the monitor, ‘add 100m each touch’ (also serves as the ‘reset’ button when held down), ‘level up’ and ‘level down’.  The ‘add’ button makes it simple to add additional meters to your targeted rowing distance because you don’t need to go to a separate menu to do this.

The ‘level’ buttons are used to record whatever resistance level the rower has chosen on the adjustable water tank.  This is done to make sure the performance monitor knows the resistance level the rower is rowing on and takes that into account to properly calculate calories [burned] per hour and other fitness data.

Although the performance monitor doesn’t automatically detect your resistance level, at least it uses that information when calculating various fitness data.  I’ve seen a handful of performance monitors on rowing machines (usually the lower-end models) out there that don’t account for resistance level which doesn’t make any sense to me because that’s a very important variable when calculating fitness data.  At least that’s not a concern for First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR owners.

The performance monitor is compatible with most heart rate monitors and has a built-in usb interface that allows the rower to be attached to a computer so you can analyze and keep track of your fitness data.  The best part in my opinion is you get to race other rowers from around the world that have their rower hooked up to a computer!  It’s not only fun, but it will push you to row hard, even on days you initially planned to take it easy.

Not many rowing machines have a built-in usb interface which I think is a shame given how far along we are in technology.  It’s good to know that First Degree made sure they weren’t going to be left out of the party, which is great news for owners.

The unit is powered by 2 AA batteries (included) and automatically turns on once the machine is being used and automatically shuts off after 5 minutes of inactivity.

The performance monitor is easy to use and has basic functions, but it doesn’t have any workout programs which isn’t a big deal considering most casual rowers either row for a specific length of time, distance, or until they’re tired; items that the Pacific Challenge’s monitor can definitely take care of.

Users liked how the monitor felt sturdy and was simple to use.  Unless you’re looking for advanced features, the performance monitor on the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has everything you need to help keep track of your fitness data.

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Build Quality

First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine ReviewThe First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a solidly built rower made of steel with an anodized aluminum seat rail.  Although it’s not classified as ‘commercial grade’, the machine is heavy-duty and is constructed to take the pounding it definitely will receive from rowers; especially those that intend to use it for interval training.

It’s made of premium parts so it feels like you’re rowing on a machine that should cost much more.

The water tank is made of polycarbonate (which is pretty much indestructible) and the blade that spins in the tank is made of stainless steel.

The belt drive is durable, which provides a smooth and quiet rowing session for the user.  This is also great because it requires practically no maintenance to keep the rower running at tip-top shape.  I’m all about high quality products that require little-to-no maintenance!

The sturdy build limits the amount of miscellaneous noise you will hear from the Pacific Challenge AR.  Besides the expected noise you will hear such as the somber sound of the water splashing in the tank and the wheels going up and down the seat rail, you won’t hear too much of anything else.  Users praised how quiet the machine is and didn’t mention anything about any creaking or other odd noises often heard of on lower-end machines.

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First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR ReviewThe seat is padded and runs on precision bearings, which makes the rowing experience smooth.  However, a few users commented that the seat wasn’t too comfortable primarily due to the ridge in the center of the seat, which rubs on your rear and makes it numb after a while.

Users found a simple fix for this issue by using a cushion, folded towel, or something to ‘level’ the seat more.  Most users were unaffected by this issue, but it’s still good to know there’s a simple fix for it.

The handle has an ergonomic design, which prevents strain on the wrists and hands.  It’s comfortable, but completely ‘round’ so it would be best not to row while wearing any rings on your fingers.

NOTE:  [This applies to most workout machines in general].  If you have sensitive hands and/ or are just starting to workout while gripping something in your hands, it might be best to use workout gloves to prevent your hands from developing calluses for the first few weeks.

The foot rests on the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR function well.  The nylon straps quickly secure your feet by easily pulling the strap.  The footboards are easy to adjust and can accommodate practically any foot size.

The heel support system secures your feet solidly in place while you row and it’s perfect for people that like to row with shoes or barefoot.  The footrest doesn’t pivot, but your feet are still able to comfortably be in rhythm with the rest of your body while you row (even the higher-end rowing machines that cost 2-3X more don’t have pivoting footrests and they function well too; this shouldn’t be a concern if this bothers you).

The rowing motion on the First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is very fluid and lifelike (as expected) since it is a water resistance rower, which out of the four different resistance types is the most realistic to outdoor rowing.  The seat glides up and down the seat rail smoothly and the handle and nylon strap provide consistent resistance with no “lag” as experienced on other rowing machine resistance types.

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The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has an easy-tilt frame and that allows it to be stored standing up on its base (with the water tank at the bottom).  While in ‘storage mode’, the rower can be stored in the corner of a room or in a coat closet.

First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR ReviewThe rower also has dual caster wheels that make it easy to be moved around when needed.  All you need to do is pick it up by the opposite end of the water tank and push it like a shopping cart.

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According to First Degree Fitness, the Pacific Challenge AR rower has a maximum weight capacity of 300 pounds (136 kg).   That’s a solid weight capacity for a home rowing machine.  Users that were fairly close to the maximum capacity were able to use the rower with no issues and it [still] felt very stable so I wouldn’t worry about the maximum weight limit being false.

Shorter people (5’ [152 cm] or shorter) won’t have an issue with the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR, however taller users need to take note.

The length of this water resistance rower is a little shorter than the higher-end models, which is fantastic for people with space issues, but the shorter length also means a shorter seat track.  This means that it’s not ideal for very tall rowers and based on other water resistance rowing machine with a similar length, the Challenge AR rower is not ideal for someone taller than 6’3” (192 cm).  If you’re taller, I suggest you try out the rower at a local fitness retailer or a gym first before purchasing the rower. Also check out my article Best Rowing Machine for Tall People.

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78″ X 21″ X 20″ (198 cm X 53 cm X 51 cm)

21” X 20” (55 cm X 50 cm) (storage mode; standing up on its base)

Weight: ~60 pounds (27 kg)

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Assembly of the First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is simple according to a few users and I took a look at the instruction manual to see if it’s easy to follow and it is based on the clear instructions with supporting pictures.  An added ‘bonus’ is most of the rower can be put together with the provided allen wrenches.

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Pros and Cons


  • Realistic rowing motion
  • Easy to assemble
  • Dual caster wheels
  • Easy “flip over” storage
  • Variable resistance adjustment determined by rowing intensity
  • Footrest design allows comfortable barefoot rowing
  • Built-in usb interface allows rowers to race other rowers and further analyze workout data
  • Patented adjustable resistance water tank makes it easy to ‘adjust’ water resistance


  • Performance monitor is basic
  • Seat can be uncomfortable
  • Some users had trouble ordering replacement parts- follow my instructions under “warranty” and you will be ok 🙂

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Consumer Reviews

The First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is regarded as a solidly built water resistance rower that can provide a solid workout for beginners to experienced rowers.  Users loved the rower can be used for interval training and the added feature of an adjustable resistance water tank.  A few users were not too fond of the design of the seat, but the same users also commented that the issue was easily fixed with a cushion or folded towel. Read the full reviews here.

Average Rating: 4.5

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  • Frame: 5 years
  • Tank and Seals: 3 years
  • Mechanical Components: 2 years
  • All wearing parts: 1 year

To request a ‘Service Inquiry’:

  1. Fill out the Service Inquiry form at
  2. Email your request to:
  3. You can speak to a Service Manager by calling- (508) 598-ROWR (7697)
  4. Speak to Todd Waite by email
  5. Also visit the distributor page and contact your local distributor-

You may be asked to wait 24 hours for a response or be directed to your regional distributor when contacting First Degree Fitness directly but these are your main points of contact if you have an issue. If you are on top of the situation and persistent you will not have a problem. 🙂

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I checked the top fitness equipment retailers online and Amazon STILL has the lowest available price for the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine.




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