College Sailing: Insight from the Left Coast

Published on November 26th, 2013

Stanford Head Coach John Vandemoer offers advice and observations for the high school sailor that is looking to compete at the collegiate level…

How has college sailing evolved?

I think the biggest thing to understand is the way that college sailing has changed in the past 10 years. The sport is the same with tight, short course competitive sailing but how we support that sailing has changed.

College sailing has moved on from the days of collegiate club sailing with good racing and big parities. Sunday morning was a struggle to get out to the starting line and the hero of the weekend was the sailor who left the party last and was first to the starting line the next day. Collegiate sailing mimicked the big yacht club Mount Gay parties of the weekend warrior, sail hard/ play hard. This atmosphere no longer exists on the top level of the college sailing game.

College sailing is still very much about good competition, tight racing and great friendships, but it is also about developing the student-athlete as a whole. The top programs now have full time coaches, and in most schools multiple coaches, that help educate on nutrition, strength training, balancing academic rigor with athletic drive. College sailing has grown into a collegiate sport where the sailors get that same collegiate experience as a Soccer team or a Baseball team.

What advice would you give you a HS sailor who seeks to sail in college?

My advice is to look for the schools that best fit you academically then work from there. Academics and the school atmosphere are your top priorities. There are so many schools that have sailing that you will be able to find your match. Visit the schools you’re interested in, meet the team and coaches as these are the people that you will be spending a ton of time with. Colleges all have cool buildings but it is the people who make the experience.

The concentration of top caliber college programs is in New England and Mid-Atlantic conferences. Why not in Pacific Coast conference?

A majority of the top California high school sailors want the varsity experience; they want to be part of a professional team to maximize what they can do in their short collegiate experience. High School sailors want organization, coaching and guidance because, after all, that’s what they are getting in High School. The growth and organization of California high school sailing has surpassed the Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference (PCCSC) by a great deal.

So when California high school juniors look at schools they look for the appropriate academic school that has the varsity sailing option. This does not exist for most of our conference. We have only two schools which are varsity – Hawaii and Stanford – and it is these two schools that have made it to Nationals the most consistently from our conference. So if a High School sailor doesn’t want to go to either of those schools they look east.

Stanford is not an easy school to get into. What help are you able to provide an elite sailor for admittance?

Sailing is a varsity sport at Stanford and has the same impact with admissions as all the other varsity sports have. That is to say, we have no pull if a student doesn’t have the academics. The admission help comes when the good sailor and great teammate has the academics, then Varsity athletics can be a help with admissions. I think the biggest help though is the education I can provide about the school and what the school is looking for.

What does the PCCSC need to do to move forward?

The biggest challenge that faces the conference is getting passed the “good old days” mentality. As a conference we need to move on to the new generation of college sailing which is a more professional view with coaches, organization and most importantly quality practice.

But to do that takes two very big steps though. Teams need to fundraise for the future and invest in coaches, not coaches that will tell you when to tack or how to cross the boat but coaches who will connect with the school, fundraise and organize the future of the program. The second big step is the Alumni of the PCCSC schools need to step in and step up. If you want your school to be competitive on a national scale you need to embrace the varsity model.

There are some bright lights in the PCCSC, as schools like UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara are trying to up their game and get more organized. Other schools like USC and UC Berkeley all have alumni that can make this happen, but they have to realize that the past is the past and it is time to help the program you love move forward.

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