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Going the extra mile for girls

Published on April 18th, 2019

by Martine Zurinskas, US Sailing Board of Directors
When looking at the 2019 USA Sailing Junior Olympic Sailing Festival at Atlanta Yacht Club (Atlanta, GA), I was shocked to see five of the 11 registered Laser Class sailors were girls. Nearly half the fleet certainly wasn’t what I saw in the late 80s when I was growing up in Columbia, South Carolina. I was usually the only girl at Laser events.

But I stuck with it and participated in three US Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championships. I think back to how each was a great learning experience that offered the opportunity to sail with females and be coached by females. These were extremely rewarding times in which one of my roommates from the 1989 event is still my best friend.

It is great now to see how this has expanded, with more options like the Laser 4.7 and Laser Radial along with the Laser Full rig to choose. Equally important are the Laser female role models such as Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias, Paige Railey, and Erika Reineke. But to continue growth requires continued effort.

Providing opportunities for young females to test drive and learn the Laser is key. Host a clinic, demo day, or just swap boats between races at the next event. Give that frustrated Opti sailor or C420 crew a chance to go fast, learn, and skipper her own boat. It is an excellent option to foster their love of sailing.

At the Atlanta event I made some fun shirts, embarrassed them more than a little, but most of all encouraged them to continue sailing the Laser. The skills they learn in this boat will always apply to other boats in the future, and how this investment in time will produce huge returns.

The cost of shirts was less than $25, giving these girls the chance to bond off the course, while the opportunity to mentor them was priceless for our sport. I challenge every sailor to try it.

The carrot at the end of the stick in 2019 is how the US Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship will have fleets for the Laser Radial and…new this year…the Laser 4.7 for smaller girls.

Sailing needs more young ladies to jump in a Laser, and promoting their participation by local Laser fleets and youth programs should be a priority. Make the opportunities available and they will come!

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