Today, we’re reviewing the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Fluid Rower. The Pacific Challenge AR is part of First Degree’s ‘Horizontal Series’ of rowing machines. This series is for ‘home rowers’, which are slightly lower cost and more compact.
Although slightly lower cost and more compact, the Pacific AR still provides the same great resistance and smooth rowing stroke as the larger, more expensive models. The lower cost is made possible by the simple monitor and cheaper materials.
I had a chance to try one and really liked the overall look and feel.
In short, the FDF Pacific Challenge AR has a solid, sturdy design that is backed by a great manufacturer warranty. The resistance is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and it provides a very smooth rowing experience.
Update: it seems to be hard to find these days and it’s not clear if the machine is still in production. Here on the company website, you can find the Pacific Plus, an upgraded (e.g., Bluetooth-enabled) version of the Pacific Challenge but it’s $1,200 (~$1090 EUR) which puts it in competition with the top-tier WaterRower and industry-standard Concept2 models.
For the best alternative to First Degree Pacific Challenge AR, see the Sunny Health Obsidian Surge review.
Availability at major retailers can vary, so it’s worth taking a look. For the lowest price, choose a place with free shipping.
Table of Contents
(click a title to jump ahead!)
1. Resistance Type
2. Monitor/Control Panel
3. Build Quality
9. Pros and Cons
10. Consumer Reviews
13. Overall Review
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.
This means, when you pull the handle, the paddles spin in the water, thus creating resistance.
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 rowers because the amount of resistance is determined by your rowing intensity.
If you row with low intensity, you feel little resistance. If you row with high intensity, you feel more resistance.
Scientists call this the “Rule of Cubes” because to double the speed of the paddles requires an 8-fold increase in resistance!
We also like to call this ‘variable’ resistance because there are no settings for resistance. Your intensity level determines the resistance level.
You can read more about variable resistance in my air and water resistance comparison article. This article also goes in-depth about how water rowing machines operate.
The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine comes equipped with their “fluid technology” and “dual chamber” tank.
Now this sounds a bit confusing but it is actually quite simple!
The ‘fluid technology’ allows for a smooth, even stroke throughout the entire rowing motion without any jarring or jerkiness.
The ‘Dual Chamber’ tank allows you to adjust the amount of water that is actually being ‘used’ in the rower. This enables you to adjust the resistance even further than just rowing fast or slow.
By turning the yellow knob from ‘Max’ to ‘Min’ you move the water between the ‘Active’ and ‘Storage’ chambers. This will increase or decrease your overall resistance.
It’s very similar to a “weight stack” on various workout machines in the gym.
For example, let’s say you’re using a weight machine at the gym and you get to choose the amount of weight 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 during the workout remains attached to the machine (kind of like it’s in storage for future use by another user). The weight you selected to use, moves with each repetition.
These same principles apply with the adjustable water tank.
It gives the user the ability to choose how much water is being used in the tank for their workout, while the remaining water is put in a separate storage compartment for future use.
Users also commented how the Pacific AR Rower is ideal for interval training such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and Crossfit. Mainly due to the extremely smooth and seamless transitions from intense rowing to slower pace rowing.
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.
While you can hear the water moving inside the tank, the rower is still very quiet. Plenty of users commented on how they’re able to watch television with normal volume or just enjoy the pleasant sound created while rowing.
Users of all ages & fitness levels have used the First Degree Fitness Pacific Rower and commented that they were able to achieve an excellent workout.
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.
Here is a great video explaining the “Fluid Technology” a little further:
The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has a multi-functional performance monitor that tracks various fitness data such as:
- 500m split time
- Strokes per minute
- Calories per hour
- Interval training
- Optional heart rate reception
All fitness data is displayed separately in its own window on the face of the workout monitor.
The size of the text is fairly large so you shouldn’t have any difficulty reading the data while you’re rowing.
There are three buttons on the monitor, ‘add 100m’ (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 right in the main window.
The ‘level’ buttons are used to record what resistance level the user has chosen on the adjustable water tank. This is done to make sure the performance monitor knows the resistance level and takes it into account when calculating calories burned and other fitness data.
Although the performance monitor doesn’t automatically detect your resistance level, at least it uses that information when calculating various data points.
I’ve seen a handful of performance monitors on rowing machines (usually the lower-end models) that don’t account for resistance level, which doesn’t allow for an accurate calculation of data. Luckily, the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR monitor has this covered!
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 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 is a shame given how far along we are in technology. It’s good to know that First Degree Fitness made sure to include this technology.
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.
Pacific Challenge AR Rower Review: Final Thoughts
The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge Rower has a fairly good monitor that tracks all of the necessary fitness data.
While it isn’t advanced as the Concept2 PM5 Rower Monitor, it is still fairly advanced.
Unless you’re looking for extremely accurate time and distance data, the performance monitor on the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has everything you need for an excellent workout!
The First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a solidly built rower with a steel frame and anodized aluminum seat rail.
Although it’s not classified as ‘commercial grade’, the machine is heavy-duty and constructed to take a beating.
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 internal components are made of marine grade 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!
Users praised how quiet the machine operates and didn’t mention anything about creaking or other odd noises often heard on lower-end machines.
The strong build quality limits the amount of miscellaneous noise you will hear from the Pacific Challenge AR. Besides the expected noise you will hear such as the water splashing in the tank and the wheels going up and down the seat rail.
The Pacific AR has a padded seat that runs on precision bearings, which makes the rowing experience smooth.
However, a few users commented 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.
You can check out the top rowing seat cushions here.
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 or are just starting to workout, 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 foot boards are easy to adjust and can accommodate practically any foot size.
Whether you row with shoes or barefoot, you will be happy to know the heel support system is great for both.
The footrests don’t pivot, but your feet are still able to comfortably be in rhythm with the rest of your body while you row.
The rowing motion on the First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is very fluid and smooth.
The seat glides up and down the seat rail smoothly, while the handle and nylon strap provide consistent resistance with no “lag”.
Overall it is a very comfortable rower!
The video below highlights all the great features of a First Degree Fitness Fluid Rower. While the machine in the video is not the Pacific Challenge AR, all the components talked about are the same on First Degree Fitness Rowing Machines.
The First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR has an easy-tilt frame 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.
The rower also has dual caster wheels, which 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.
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 still felt very stable.
Shorter people (5.0’ [152 cm] or shorter) won’t have an issue with the First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR, but 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. However, the shorter length also means a shorter seat track.
This means that it’s not ideal for very tall rowers. The Challenge AR Rower is not ideal for someone taller than 6’6″.
If you’re taller, I suggest you try out the rower at a local fitness retailer or gym before purchasing.
Also check out my article on the Best Rowing Machine for Tall People. This provides information on rowing machines for people 6’7″ and taller.
- In Use:
- 78.0″ x 21.0″ x 20.0″ (198 cm x 53 cm x 51 cm) (L x W x H)
- Storage/ Upright:
- 21.0” x 20.0” x 78.0″ (53 cm x 51 cm x 198cm) (L x W x H)
- ~60 pounds (27 kg)
Assembly of the First Degree Fitness Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine seems fairly simple based on user reviews and the assembly manual.
The instruction manual has very clear instructions with supporting pictures. Total assembly time should not be longer than 45 minutes.
An added ‘bonus’ is the rower can be put together with the provided allen wrenches and multi tools.
Pros and Cons
- Realistic rowing motion
- Easy to assemble
- Dual caster wheels
- Easy upright 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 more basic than PM5 monitor in same price range
- Seat can be uncomfortable
- Some users had trouble ordering replacement parts- follow my instructions under “warranty” and you will be ok :)
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 all users.
Users loved the ability to use the rower for interval training and the added feature of an adjustable resistance water tank.
A few users were not too fond of the seat design, but the same users also commented the issue is easily fixed with a cushion or folded towel. Other users were not happy with the customer service but I believe First Degree Fitness has sorted this out.
**There are some reviews of older versions of the Pacific Challenge AR that show pictures of the old machine. The photos in this review are updated for the newer model.**
The Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine is also the exact same model as the Newport Challenge AR Rowing Machine except in a different color. You can see my review of this model for more information and a better variety of consumer reviews.
There is one listing on Amazon that shows photos of the older model Pacific Challenge AR. While these reviews can definitely be taken into consideration, they may be for the older, outdated rower. Look at the newer model or go to the Newport Challenge AR which is the exact same rowing machine.
Average Rating: 4.4
- Frame: 5 years
- Tank and Seals: 3 years
- Mechanical Components: 2 years
- All wearing parts: 1 year
To request a ‘Service Inquiry’:
- Fill out the service inquiry form on the Contact page
- Go to the distributors page and find your local distributor
- Email all the people listed
- 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.
There were periods of time where customers were not getting reliable customer service but I believe some of those issues have been sorted out.
If you are having issues please let me know at Edwin@RowingMachineKing.com . I will be glad to help.
Pacific Challenge AR Price
The Pacific Challenge AR Water Rowing Machine is a competitively priced water rower.
Most people who are looking to find a water rowing machine under $1,000 find this model very attractive.
I checked the top fitness equipment retailers online and Amazon tends to have the lowest available price and great consumer protection.
Overall, the Pacific Challenge AR is a solidly built rower that feels like you are actually rowing on water.
There are many great features and the price is good for a water rowing machine. Many users choose to buy the First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rowing Machine because they enjoy the red color.
When comparing the Newport Challenge AR vs. Pacific Challenge AR they are functionally exactly the same. You can read my review for more information and see this rower has a lot more reviews and accurate consumer feedback.
Other users may choose to go up in price and look at the WaterRower GX Home Rowing Machine. This is the lowest-priced WaterRower.
You may also like the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine. This is one of the most popular selling water rowing machines.
For just a little more you can also buy the #1 bestselling rowing machine. While it is an air rower, it will have the best monitor on the market. The Concept2 Rowers are used by all Olympic Rowers and Crossfit athletes.
Check out my complete Model D review here.
I hope you enjoyed my First Degree Fitness Pacific Challenge AR Rowing Machine review! If you have any questions leave them in the comment section below.
Rowing Machine King Founder and Author.