Youth Sailing: That was then, that is now >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News – Scuttlebutt Sailing News | Gmx Pharm

Antony Barran reflects on the changes since growing up in Marina Del Rey, CA in the 1970’s and 80’s.


My early years in sailing were a very different time. There were no RIBs or professional trainers. The idea of ​​sailing in college wasn’t a way into a big school, it was what you did when you got into that school; so a solid Abitur career was the way to university.

Sailing was a calling. It’s very different today.

My wife and I are now splitting our time evenly between the west and east coasts, and we are slowly beginning to sail again, at the behest of our children in their mid to late 20s, after a 10+ year hiatus from it.

I have the luxury of occasionally strolling down to Coconut Grove Sailing Club (Miami, FL) on a random Thursday afternoon for a drink and relaxation when work permits. I never cease to be amazed at the accuracy of the AYSO/Club Soccer analogy shared in Scuttlebutt.

There is a group of mothers and nannies sitting in the club. Your children will sail with a professional coach and they will sit in a folding chair overlooking the water, book/work/laptop in hand; not aware of the surroundings.

I asked them if they came from sailing families: “No,” they answer. That should be great news. But unfortunately, if you dig deeper, you realize the simple reality is that they see this as an opportunity to better complete a college application at a Tier 1 school.

It’s no more than a way to a good college. The family is and never will be a “sailing family”. Once the high school student graduates, the family will abandon sailing as if it were an inconvenience no different from a bit of gum on the bottom of their shoe.

My contemporaries grew up in sailing families that were active in racing. We were part of a community built around sailing. During the summer we raced three nights a week – Tuesday and Thursday races in Sabots and Lasers and Wednesday races in Big Boats. We sailed 5-7 days a week.

There were no trainers. We would coach each other. Our parents followed our races with interest. The few juniors who did really well were given the opportunity to sail the best keelboats in the area.

I’ve always been a pretty average sailor compared to my age group. However, that made me a solid, dependable sailor on almost any boat. More importantly, I was average among the juniors around me at Marina Del Rey, which meant I was a much better sailor than the average adult.

This allowed me to sail in good positions on keel boats and interact with the adults at eye level. Above all, that was the most important classroom I had. Interacting with executives at age 12, learning their language, understanding how they think and realizing that they are “only human” gave me a significant edge over my professional peers in later years.

Today’s youth sailing focuses on the same things that prioritize football and baseball: find the players who have a rare combination of natural talent and physical attributes, and nurture them at everyone else’s expense. Adore the top 5% and discard the remaining 95%.

Sailing has become the same. Get good at an Optimist, qualify for major regattas and maybe some internationals. Sail two-handed dinghies at school. Then leave the sport. Why are we wasting the other 95% of kids who could become lifelong sailors?

Please do not misunderstand my thoughts as a desire to dismantle the current status quo. Not me. It’s not a zero-sum game. Rather, I would like to add. I think sailing needs to broaden your thinking. It has to stop trying to wrap the sport in a single narrative.

For most national authorities, the focus is on the Olympic Games. I’ve always found it interesting that US Sailing is the only organization in the Northern Hemisphere that sees a dual purpose in making money from big boat certifications and Olympic achievements. I think her results speak for themselves… not so glowing.

I believe there are two areas of sailing that could be leveraged to generate significant returns in terms of lifetime participation and benefits for both the children and the community:
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1. College Offshore Sailing: I’ve been spending quite a bit of time interacting with the College of Charleston and its Offshore Sailing Program lately. We keep our boat in Charleston and have opened it up for the offshore team to sail with us. Our first regatta was Charleston Race Week. The college had three boats that competed with team members and alumni; ours was one of them. Notice I said former team members still came back to sail their keelboats. Being busy with budding careers allows them to stay connected. Offshore racing, less obvious than the dinghy teams, is a place for people who don’t have the right physical conditions for a collegiate dinghy race.

2. Community Sailing Programs: When I’m on the West Coast, I live in a very small county in Washington State that has an amazing and overlooked sailing heritage and a 20% high school dropout rate. My family is involved in building a local community sailing program using small keelboats (something like a J/22, Merit 25, Sonar or similar) that are available for rental to the community but are primarily focused on an after school sailing program . I think sailing is a fabulous platform to get kids excited about STEM. As many know, the STEM side of education is often viewed by students as the most repulsive and least relevant part of education, and a major contributor to dropout rates.
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We as a community need to embrace and welcome new families to our sport. But to be truly successful, we need to create new channels and entry points. Ones that don’t just focus on collegiate and Olympic sailing, but rather on winning in life.

comment: I was a few years older than Antony and also enjoyed that early lifestyle in Marina del Rey, but his story from that time is not unique as I’ve heard it from all corners of the country. While there is little doubt that the level of achievement in youth sailing has increased over time, is this progress without retention? – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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