First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine Review

First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine ReviewThe First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a great addition to the “Horizontal Series” of rowers.

It’s shiny red color and compact design, makes this rowing machine look ready for a killer workout.

Complete with First Degree Fitness’s “fluid technology”, this rower is made to emulate the feeling and sound of rowing on actual water.

With the “AR” standing for “adjustable resistance”, any user can perfectly adjust the machine to match their skill level.

The strong build quality and long warranty help to round out the overall solid Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine.

While there are a ton of positives about this model, some users had a few gripes that are mentioned throughout the review.

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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
13. Overall Review

Resistance Type

The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is as the name suggests, a water resistance rowing machine.

This means the rower has paddles suspended in a tank filled with water. When the user pulls the handle, the paddles in the tank spin.

The faster you pull the handle, the faster the paddles spin, and the more resistance the water creates in the tank.

You can read more about the characteristics of water rowing machines and other resistance types in my full resistance guide.

As mentioned in the article, water resistance is very similar to air resistance in that the harder you row, the more resistance you feel.

We like to say the resistance levels are ‘variable’ because the operator can decide what level they want to row at based on how fast or slow they row.

The resistance increases or decreases based off the scientific “Rule of Cubes”. This means to double the speed of the paddles in the tank, requires an 8-fold increase in resistance.

Basically, it requires a lot more energy to row faster!

Resistance Benefits

As I just mentioned, one benefit of water rowing machines is they have ‘variable’ resistance that closely mimics rowing on water.

Even when you row faster, the noise created by the water is as soothing as rowing on a mountain lake. Ok, maybe not that good but the noise is pleasant and not very loud.

Many users mentioned they could listen to music at a normal level or use it next to their child’s room as they sleep.

Newport Challenge AR Resistance

Another advantage of the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR is the patented “fluid technology” incorporated into a “dual-chamber” tank.

This means the resistance is not only ‘variable’ but also ‘adjustable’.

After filling the tank with water, you can adjust the resistance on the tank between settings 1 and 4.

Level 1 for beginners and 4 for advanced athletes.

By changing the settings, the tank will automatically adjust the water levels from the inner “storage” chamber to the “active” outer chamber. Moving more water to the active chamber will increase the resistance and vice versa.

This is a great feature that is not seen on many water rowing machines and really allows the users to set the rower to their desired fitness level.

The “fluid technology” also allows for one of the smoothest, most realistic rowing strokes on the market.

There are no “dead spots” during the stroke, meaning you will not feel any jarring or jerkiness, which will help prevent injuries and be very low impact on your joints.

You will also have an “instant catch”, meaning you will feel resistance as soon as you pull the handle and there will be no delay or lag.

This video does a great job of explaining the “fluid technology” on one of First Degree Fitness’s commercial rowers.

Resistance Downsides

While the Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine has a lot of upsides relating to resistance, there are a few downsides.

Some users mentioned they felt the resistance lacked in difficulty and wished it could be increased a few more levels.

Some people want more of a “weight lifting” workout, which is not provided by a rowing machine. Rowing is a blend of cardio and strength training.

People who purchase the Newport Challenge AR also must realize that to workout harder and really become out of breath, they must row faster! Remember, the resistance is based off the harder you row, the more resistance is created.

This is exactly the same resistance as rowing a scull on water.

However, I will not totally ignore the negative comments and will say the resistance could be improved by having bigger paddles and more water in the tank.

Very strong users who are looking for more of a strength workout may want to check out one of the most popular water rowing machines, the WaterRower Natural Home Rower.

If you are not opposed to air resistance, then you may want to check out the Concept2 Model D Air Rower. This is the #1 bestselling rowing machine for all around fitness.


The resistance on the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR is excellent and should be a good fit for most users.

The rowing stroke is smooth, strong, and provides a pleasant sound. It is great for people who are not keen on hearing the loud noise created by air rowers with a metal rowing chain.

Monitor/Control Panel

The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine comes fully equipped with a multi-function performance monitor that tracks a wide range of fitness data including:

  • Time
  • 500M Time (split time)
  • Level (tank resistance level)
  • Pulse (heart rate monitor required)
  • SPM (strokes per minute)
  • Distance (will count down from set distance)
  • Calories/ Hour
  • Watts

As you can see, the monitor tracks all the necessary fitness data you need to have a great workout. The text is fairly large and displayed in separate windows for easier reading.

You can set your desired distance by pressing the “Add 100M” button and the monitor will count down to zero.

First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge Water Rowing Machine Monitor

Monitor Features

One great feature is the ability to match the monitor level to the level of your tank for accurate information tracking.

For example, if your tank resistance is level 1 but your monitor is level 4, your distance and calorie count will be off because the monitor will not be recording properly.

This is a cool benefit because I have seen many rowing machines that have adjustable resistance but don’t have the option for their monitors to adjust accordingly, which makes their calorie data inaccurate.

The “Calories/ Hour” you see while rowing is the rate of calories burned. You will have to stop rowing for 5 seconds to have the monitor default to your “Total Calories Burned”.

The Newport Challenge AR monitor has an optional heart rate monitor that can be purchased from First Degree Fitness for about $50. This would allow your heart rate to display on the monitor.

Another option is to purchase something like the Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor and have your heart rate displayed on your phone.  You can then use it for any other exercises you perform.

The monitor also has a built in USB interface that allows you to connect your monitor to your computer.

This allows you to exercise while enjoying Netflix or to train using the NetAthlon 2 XF for Fluid Rowers program. This program allows you to race against other people on the internet in a virtual 3D environment or train solo. It also allows you to track your progress over time.  Another great feature of this monitor!

The unit is powered by 2 AA batteries (included). It will automatically turn on once the machine is used and automatically shut off after 5 minutes of inactivity.

Monitor Downsides

For the price of this rowing machine I think the monitor should include some storage capabilities, built in workout programs, and possibly some rowing games.

These features are seen on some other air and magnetic rowers in this price range.

However, water rowers seem to be more expensive to manufacture, so this could be where the difference is made up.


Overall this is a great monitor that does a lot more than track basic fitness data. I would consider this to be a top of the line monitor but towards the lower end of the list.

While it may not be the best, it is certainly not bad, and considered to be sufficient for most users I spoke with!

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Build Quality

The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a well built rower with an anodized aluminum seat rail and steel part frame.

Even though First Degree Fitness classifies this rower for home-use, it sure feels like it is commercial grade.

The rower is made from high quality parts, which adds to the overall feeling of stability and sturdiness while rowing. Rounded caps at the base of the rower also help to keep the rowing machine grounded and protect your floors.

First Degree Pacific Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine

The water tank is made from polycarbonate plastic which is almost indestructible and is shown on the First Degree Fitness website bearing the weight of an SUV.

The triple-bladed paddles inside the tank are built to last and are constructed from marine grade steel.

The improved pulley resistance system is made from highly durable 1.00″ nylon strap and bungee cord to provide increased tension and recoil action.


There were very few complaints about the build quality of the Limited Edition Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine.

One complaint was that the plastic footrests sometimes crack if they are flexed repeatedly. While very few people complained about this, the warranty or a cheap replacement part can fix the problem.

The issue can also be caused by improper form and having your feet too high in the footrests.  This will cause your heel to come off the foot-boards too much and crack the plastic.


The build quality is a strong point of the Newport Challenge AR and it is backed by a strong warranty in case of any issues.

However, please see below for how to resolve any warranty problems.

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As mentioned earlier, comfort was key when designing the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rowing Machine.

The “fluid technology” is designed to provide a smooth comfortable rowing stroke and this is exactly what it provided.

The smooth rowing stroke is then complimented with comfortable rowing components.

The handle is ergonomically designed to have a slight curve that prevents arm and hand fatigue. It is also covered in a rubber foam material for a solid grip and to prevent blisters.

The seat is designed to relieve any unnecessary pressure and is comfortable for long rowing sessions.

Newport Challenge AR Seat

It slides smoothly on the seat rail with precision bearings and low friction seat rollers. The seat track is concealed to provide a smoother, cleaner, and safer operation.


There were also very few complaints about the comfort of this rower. The only issue is that some people found the footrests to be uncomfortable but I don’t see any evidence of a design flaw in the footrests.

Most users said they felt strong, sturdy, and comfortable.

It could be a case of trying to have a one-size fits all footrest for 1,000’s of different foot shapes and sizes.

The seat height is 12.0″ off the ground, which may be uncomfortable for users with bad knees to get on and off, but this is a normal height for rowing machines. Some specialized rowers have higher seat heights for this reason.

As always, some users felt the seat hurt their butt, although I hear this about every rower.  A simple cushion will fix this issue.


The Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a very comfortable piece of equipment that most users are happy with its performance.

The video below highlights all the great features of a First Degree Fitness Fluid Rower.

While the machine in the video is not the Newport Challenge AR, all the components talked about are the same on all First Degree Fitness Rowing Machines.

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Like all the water rowing machines, the Newport Challenge AR has easy storage capabilities.

Just lift from the back of the machine and store upright (with the tank on the bottom).

Newport Challenge AR Water Rower Storage

As long as the tank is not overfilled, there will be no water leaks. You can easily transport the rower to the corner of the room or closet using the built in caster wheels.

The stored dimensions are 22.0″ x 21.0″ at the base and 78.0″ tall.

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While the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is more compact than other water rowing machines, it still has the ability to fit most users.

The manufacturing suggested weight limit is 300 lbs., which is good but not great. Some rowers at this price point have a 500 lb. weight capacity.

However, the manufacturer could be listing a conservative weight limit to ensure there are no issues for heavier users.

This rower has been used by children under 5.0′ tall, so there are no issues for shorter users.

The seat rail allows users to row with an inseam up to 39.0″. This is about 6’6″ to 6’7″ depending on your leg length.

Overall, the Newport Challenge AR should be able to accommodate most users.

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  • Assembled Dimensions:
    • 78.0″ x 21.0″ x 20.0″ (L x W x H)
  • Weight:
    • 60 lbs. (up to 68 lbs. when tank is full)

The rowing machine is shipped in two boxes for assembly (mentioned below).

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Many users felt that assembling the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR was fairly straightforward and simple.

The tank is already attached to the frame and most of the assembly involves attaching the seat to the seat rail and rail to the frame.

Some users became a little confused on this part due to the pictures being small on the instructions. They found going to the “exploded diagram” on the First Degree Fitness website helped.

All the tools needed for assembly come with the rower, even the 2AA batteries for the monitor.

After the rowing machine is assembled, all that is left to do is fill the tank with water using the included siphon.

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Pros and Cons


  • “Fluid Technology” adjustable resistance
  • Multi-functional monitor with USB
  • Strong build quality
  • Pleasant water rowing sound
  • Large user capacity
  • Long warranty
  • Easy assembly and storage


  • Monitor could be more advanced
  • Resistance can be a little light for strong users
  • Users have issues finding replacement parts (see warranty)

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Consumer Reviews

Figuring out consumer sentiment for the First Degree Fitness product line has been a bit confusing.

Overall ratings and reviews for the Newport Challenge AR have been positive and only a few users have shown being disgruntled.

Most users are happy with the smooth rowing stroke, strong build quality, and saving a few $100 from other water rowing machines.  They also love the ability to adjust the resistance within the tank.

The few unhappy customers have been outspoken when they had difficulty contacting the manufacturer for warranty parts. This really pisses people off and often leads to a very poor rating and review. I speak about this more in the warranty section.

See more details here: Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine Review

Average Rating: 4.4

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The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is backed by a very solid warranty.

  • Frame:
    • 5-Years
  • Tanks & Seals:
    • 3-Years
  • Mechanical Components (non-wearing)
    • 2-Years
  • Components (wearing):
    • 1-Year

While the warranty time frame is great, what good is a warranty if getting it honored is a pain?  In the past there have been periods where customers have had a hard time contacting First Degree Fitness.

They would go to the website and realize a phone number is not easily seen. They would then fill out the service request form and have to wait for it to be sent to the local distributor and be answered.

If you need a question answered or have a service inquiry, these are the steps I would take:

  1. Fill out the service inquiry form
  2. Go to the distributors page and find your local distributor
  3. Email all the people listed
  4. Call the phone number of the local distributor

I believe First Degree Fitness has changed some of their distributors and have found more reliable companies who are better at customer service.  Each time I have contacted the distributor I have received a response within a few hours.

If you have any issues please let me know at [email protected] . I will be glad to help.

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Newport Challenge AR Price

The First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is towards the high end of this price range but is a very competitively priced water rowing machine.

The most popular brand of water rowers have all their products listed above the Newport Challenge AR.

I have looked at a few online retailers and Amazon seems to have the lowest pricing and usually offers free shipping. They also add a nice layer of consumer protection for any purchases.

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Overall Review

The Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a great piece of equipment.  Many people prefer to have water resistance over the other types but can’t afford to spend well over $1,000 on a new rowing machine.

If you are looking to save a few hundred bucks when buying a water rowing machine, then this is the rower for you. If you want the next step up, then check out the following models:

The WaterRower GX Home Rower is the lowest cost WaterRower model. It has a mono-rail seat design and a more basic monitor to make it more affordable.

The WaterRower Club Rowing Machine is a very popular WaterRower built for home and commercial use.

First Degree Fitness also offers the exact same rowing machine in grey color called the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR. I’m not sure why they have a completely separate name but you can follow the link to my review.

I hope you enjoyed my First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine review!

If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section below.

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