Oh kids, they wanna have fun

Published on October 22nd, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The Extreme Sailing Series is in its twelfth season of creating fan-friendly competitions using high-speed catamarans. While the main appeal is the ‘stadium’ short-course racing positioned in front of the shore side spectator venue, the opening act at the San Diego stopover on October 18-21 was pretty hot too.

What occurred was the O’Pen BIC Pre-Game Show where 42 kids from Bermuda, across the USA (Hawaii too) and even Europe competed in an hour-long series before the big-time races were held on Saturday and Sunday.

For these kids to be part of the Extreme Sailing Series was pretty cool, for them to be doing it in front of a venue lined with people was really cool, and to then to have speakers along a quarter mile of shoreline pumping out commentary on their antics was crazy cool.

Their race format, called the ‘Un-Regatta, is super cool too. After the start and first upwind leg, they zig-zagged back downwind with marks just feet from the fans, each reach leg requiring them to execute a surprise skill announced by loud-hailer: stand-up sailing, 360° turn, capsize, steer with their feet, etc.

And just before the finish, there was the Bridge of Doom, a massive, inflatable obstacle they must sail under. But it’s a few feet shorter than the mast height, so the kids must be fully-heeled, on the verge of capsizing, to get under it. Most made it but some got ‘doomed’.

After a couple races, each day ended in an expression session – a timed period where the kids try to out-do each other with stunts. Massive wheelies, hang ten, climb the mast, push-ups, and lots of capsizing. The finale on Sunday was when all the kids capsized in front of the crowd, stood on their upturned hulls, and danced the Macarena while the venue’s PA system pumped out the song.

Amid a youth sports landscape of overly scheduled, structured, and increasingly competitive activities, surrounded by layers of coaching, what these 42 kids demonstrated was how they can do just fine without the hardcore training routine, and how messing around on a boat like the O’Pen BIC can be pretty fun and a great way to learn too.

If there is an interest in encouraging young sailors to become life sailors, this type of kid-friendly format allows them to participate in an atmosphere where results aren’t nearly as important as having a good time. They can become hardcore sailors later if they want, but it is more important first to find the love of sailing and build the foundation that keeps them in the sport longer.

The last “race” was the “Expression Session” when kids had 3 minutes to express themselves. © Judy Tillson

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