Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Have we lost a generation of sailors?

(Tuesday, October 10, 2006) Junior sailing programs are doing a tremendous job of introducing children to sailing. The support that clubs and teams provide, from coaching to getting the boats and kids to distant events, is very comprehensive. When children grow up and out of the pram, they transition into the next boat or boats that are popular in their area. Some go to Lasers, but most are in a double-handed boat that is suited for young sailors. These are often club-owned boats, where the great support continues.

The arrival of High School sailing has proven to be a successful step from the junior program, and has provided a training ground prior to a youth’s college years, and the intercollegiate sailing programs offered at many campuses. From junior programs to high school sailing to college sailing, there is a continuous track of development. From those first teary days in beginner sailing, to the moment of college graduation, our young sailors have had the support and boats that provided the foundation to experience competitive sailing.

But through this process, have we lost a generation of sailors? Have these sailors ever crewed for someone from a nearby one-design dinghy fleet (Lightning, Thistle, Snipe, etc.)? Have they tinkered with the tuning of their own boat, or with a type of boat that rewards a speed advantage to such attentiveness? Have they ever competed regularly on a keelboat from their yacht club, and learned what it is like to work within a team of sailors? Have they gotten really vested in the sport, and gained the kinds of experiences that will carry them beyond their college years?

At the 2006 US Sailboat Show last week, I had many interesting conversations with some very bright industry people, and the answer that often came up with was… no. These twenty-somethings have been so busy on their junior track, and have hence grown up sailing within a bubble. Once out of college, the bubble bursts, they are stranded, and can easily drift away from the sport. One idea bantered about was how the US Olympic sailing program may have even suffered by this current youth program, where American sailors have been strapped sailing low-performance boats that emphasize short course tactics, and lack the technical skills and experiences to exceed within Olympic classes.

Have we possibly lost a generation of sailors? Has the junior track done damage to the US Olympic effort? - Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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