Not every kid needs to be the next America’s Cup skipper

Published on October 2nd, 2014

Margaret Bonds Podlich is the president of BoatU.S., the nation’s largest group of boaters, with more than half a million members. An accomplished racer, Podlich shares in an interview with trade association Sail America some ways the sailing industry can get younger people or new people involved with sailing…

Create different event formats and get club/community sailing boats to make it easy, fun and cheap to participate. In the past year, I’ve started sailing in Friday night team racing and Monday night match racing—using club-owned boats that are ready and waiting at the dock when you blast in from work. These formats are really working, and we are getting 16–35 year olds out on the water. They are in a very different place than some of us older sailors—their conversations include topics like asking someone out, their upcoming marriage, and buying their first house.

From the financial side, we aren’t requiring them to be boat owners to continue to be avid racers. And that may be the way that clubs keep the 20–40 year olds engaged. It’s been great to have an array of ages on the race course, and afterwards “the kids” teach the older sailors this adrenaline-filled sailing discipline they did in college. It’s great!

I’ve also seen some fun regattas that have a great racing element, but a substantial emphasis on the party side too—with racing right off the dock for good spectating, a live band in the parking lot, part of the proceeds going to charity, and everyone welcome, whether you are sailing or not.

I think we’re going to have to think out of the box to see what works for different groups—what your average 60-year-old sailor is used to may not work for the 25 year old. Then again, they may be open to trying something new too!

We also need to remember that everyone, and every kid, doesn’t fit into a racing program. As an industry (or just from our own experiences) are we too racing-focused to be as inclusive as possible?

I have a friend with a 10 year old who loves sailing, but who doesn’t want to go back to sailing camp for the third summer. He is not a competitive kid, and the program he’s involved with focuses on racing. Can we think about alternative programs that have a more widespread appeal to help kids become happy around the water—maybe with sailing, powerboating, paddling, without aspirations to be the next America’s Cup skipper?

Click here for complete interview.

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