Rise of College sailing club teams

Published on May 9th, 2016

By Theresa White, Sailing World
Student-run club teams are bringing a whole new attitude to the college sailing scene and they’re setting their goals as high as the best varsity teams.

Imagine that you are a high school student and a good one, with high hopes for your future. Even though you love sailing, you pick a college based on how well it can help you achieve your career dreams. Then you get to campus and discover that something is missing. Not only do you miss your hometown and your friends, but you also miss your sport.

Perhaps your college has never had a sailing team. Maybe it had a team at one time, but membership levels and enthusiasm have seriously diminished. What can you do? Surprisingly, some of the most important factors in resurrecting a sailing program may not be the boats, money or logistics, instead, the answer is the people. Here are a few things you can do to create a growth-oriented program with a hot attitude about the future.

Although they enjoy racing, members of the University of California, San Diego sailing team view promoting the sport as part of their mission, so they take all comers to their sailing program. Co-captain Sam Rohrbach sailed for the first time the summer before he started college. He took a trip organized by UCSD that involved sailing for a week on a tall ship, where he met a lot of great people, including someone who was an experienced sailor and who convinced Sam to join the sailing team.

The three captains and two volunteer coaches gave him fairly formal lessons in the sailing basics. New club members are taught to sail and race through a combination of good coaching and a lot of practice, usually about 15 to 25 hours per week. After that initial instruction, Rohrbach says, it was trial by fire. He had sailed only a few times before his first regatta.

Rohrbach’s experience wasn’t too different from most other people’s on the UCSD team, roughly 80 percent of them never sailed before joining the club. A club fair held at the beginning of the year helps recruit new members, but many join based on word of mouth from other members. The UCSD sailing team is currently operating at a capacity membership level and competes in the Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference.

Syracuse University’s sailing team had diminished from its glory years. Even though the club sports team was founded in 1937, a lack of interest closed it down for a while. When the sailing team was founded again in 2010, the five students kick-starting the program recognized that to get people interested and committed, the social aspect of the club had to be as important as the regatta schedule. This was particularly important because their local sailing venues are frozen for much of the academic year.

Maintaining a team that would still be connected and energetic when the lake thawed required scheduling a variety of events in addition to race training. As Valerie Wiehl, one of the current commodores, reports: “ We had a sailing team formal this year. We brought in sailors from Hobie Fleet 204 to do winter chalk talks on sailing and racing tactics. We’ve gone bowling, apple picking and ice skating. As a result of all of this, we’re close friends, family, even.”

Read On. Sailing World Magazine.

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