Beyond Chicken Fingers and Cheese Pizza

Published on October 18th, 2018

Nevin Sayre, a five-time U.S. National Windsurfing Champion and four time college sailing All-American, has become acutely aware of what’s hampering youth sailing in the USA. Sayre is now hyper-active in creating awareness of the issues, sharing his thoughts in an interview with Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck.

In Part One he described how the O’pen BIC is proving to be a popular alternative to prams, while in Part Two below he discusses additional ways to expand the youth sailing ‘kiddie menu’:

While the O’pen BIC is expanding in the USA, windsurfing is another popular alternative in Europe but it has not seen the same success in the USA. Reasons?

Youth windsurfing has all the same attractions as the O’pen BIC, arguably more. And in many many countries, youth windsurfing remains HUGE. They get 300 kids, under age 17, at the Techno 293 Worlds.

But despite the U.S. having many of the top windsurfers in the world in the 70s and 80s, sadly the culture was never integrated into sailing clubs, or our national organization, as it was in other countries. So now, even though learning to windsurf is easier than ever, one of the holdbacks is we just don’t have enough windsurfing instructors coming out of sailing programs.

It is true, with windsurfing, you need at least that first good instruction to have enough success to sail back to your starting point. Take that in contrast to the O’pen BIC – with 10 minutes of instruction, you have kids tacking, jibing, sailing all over the place with satisfaction.

At my home club (Vineyard Haven YC), we also have a solid windsurfing program, and it’s great to see other strong programs in the Northeast such as Community Boating Boston, American YC, Port Washington YC, and others. But in every case, there are enthusiastic instructors and ring leaders making it happen.

Conversely, it seems like youth multihull sailing is getting some traction. Are we in the midst of general disruption to the limited options that kids had been presented?

Yes, we are seeing disruption from our olden ways. I can’t count how many sailing acquaintances I have run into lamenting how their kids quit because sailing just wasn’t exciting and fun enough in their one-track program.

All these new platforms – multihulls, skiffs, foiling, kites, etc. are engaging a number of kids who opt for more excitement. But most of these platforms are for kids 14+ and are relatively expensive. We know that most kids drop out before then, in ages 10-13. That’s where the O’pen BIC and youth windsurfing shine.

Kids are influenced by their instructors, but I suspect now anyone under 40 who learned to sail through a program is a product of limited youth sailing options. Is this an issue when we discuss promoting the diversity of sailing to young sailors?

Yes, this is an issue. For years, most sailing instructors come out of junior programs and only know prams, 420s/FJs, and racing. My home sailing program doesn’t look first for the college All-American wannabes, but instead the rah-rah camp counselor type who have a passion for sailing.

We are just now starting to see instructors coming out who grew up in alternative sailing programs and who get that it’s not all just about racing. Some have been exposed to REACH and other broader perspectives, that make them great instructors.

What is your advice when you hear from sailing areas that are struggling with attrition?

1. Change the way you have always been doing things!

2. If you already have the traditional Opti/420 race program, offer parallel ‘adventure sailing’ classes which offer more than starts and windwards-leeward courses – sail to different venues, freestyle, mini ‘Un-Regattas’, games on the water, etc. Slide in seamanship as you can. Put as much emphasis on these classes as you do your race team.

3. Take advantage of as many different boats as you can. Our ‘adventure sailing’ class (we call it the ‘Reachers’) primarily uses O’pen BICs but switches into Lasers, Sonars, windsurfers, and a club 30-foot keelboat on a given day. The kids appreciate the variety and they learn tons of different skills. They have fun and you give them the opportunity to find their own passion in sailing.

MORE: Nearly 50 O’pen BICs will display modern youth sailing in front of the Grand Stands before the Extreme Sailing Series™ GC32 racing on October 20 and 21 in San Diego, CA. From 12:00 to 13:15, spectators will witness an Extreme O’pen BIC “Un-Regatta” within boat lengths of the Harbor Island shoreline and the free Race Village.


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