Keeping Young People in the Sport

Published on September 10th, 2017

Ari Barshi, who runs the Laser Training Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, is host to both beginner sailors and those training for the Olympics. He is an advocate for the sport and is eager to see the next generation sail all the way to the sunset. Here he shares a story to help it happen.

We have been supporting the Opti program in the DR for years, and were impressed to see eight year old children enjoying sailing. However, like many others have witnessed, we see a drop in participation at the age of twelve when these young people begin to prefer more interactive activities. In other words, activities where they can share an immediate experience with their peers.

I learned how to sail when I was thirteen. I did it with all my buddies on boats designed for eight sailors. Many of us still sail today. Some years ago, I looked for a sailboat that would provide a similar experience with a modern appeal. But the only boat I found (at the time) was made by Hobie Cat in Europe, and while it was exciting with two trapeze wires, the cost to deliver it to this side of the Atlantic was over $30,000.00.

When considering the cost of creating a fleet, and finding more storage space in the club, it made this option and many other new boats not viable.

Recently, the Dominican Laser Association invited sailors from all classes to participate in a team racing event. The wind was blowing over 20 knots and it was clear that we couldn’t let 110 pound teenagers sail a full rig Laser in those conditions. But the kids love sailing, they came from far, and we could see signs of major disappointment on their faces.

So we called an audible, and the sad expressions changed to huge smiles when we created teams of two sailors on each Laser. The rules were simple:
• Total weight of a two person team cannot exceed 220 lbs. (100 kg).
• One person steers, the other person trims the main. No one could go as ballast or as a passive passenger.
• Each heat (race) the team members have to change position. Trimmer becomes skipper and vice versa.

The sailors were meeting for the first time at this event, yet after each heat, instead of having small groups of sailors debriefing, we saw much bigger groups formed as members of two clubs wanted to hear about the experience.

With the Laser being the most widespread boat in the world, it is the cheapest solution for those looking to have an interactive sailing activity for young sailors. In our case, the fun was contagious, and we are already planning open fleet races for teams of two apply the same “rules.”

Did we stumble upon the cheapest and easiest solution to keep young adults racing? I hope so!

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