Teaching life skills through sailing

Published on August 7th, 2019

Over the past seven years, and under the leadership of Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer, the Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation (PYSF) has seen its numbers swell and its sailors enjoy junior-racing success.

And now, from its location at the Port of Redwood in Northern California, PYSF will be hosting the 2019 Chubb US Junior Championships, one of the biggest junior regattas of the year, from August 8 to 11.

When Vandemoer took over PYSF in September 2012, the program had roughly 35 kids. “Now we have 120 that sail year round, and in the summer we add another 100 or so.” In July’s C420 North Americans at St. Francis Yacht Club, 18 teams represented PYSF.

“That’s huge,” Vandemoer said. “It was a team effort across the board. We had a bunch of boats in the top 10 and all through the silver fleet — that’s a good sign of a good program.”

Originally from San Diego, she attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa and went on to the London 2012 Olympics in the Elliott 6m, coming in fifth. She won the Women’s Match Racing Worlds in 2011 and Snipe Women’s Worlds that same year.

“The reason we’re successful is it’s a lot of hard work — it’s hard work from the kids that bought into the program and the parents that bought into the program. It’s hard work from the coaching staff and all of us behind the scenes. The goal isn’t just to win the regatta — that’s a sub goal — the goal is that we want to make good humans and teach good life skills.

“We want to make team players who make their teammates better. It’s everything involved with sports, like going to school and having a job and showing up to perform. Everybody is on equal footing, and that shows a successful program to me. It makes me feel good. It took us a while — it took us years and years. But I like what we’re doing.”

Stephanie Ashworth, the board president of PYSF, is unequivocal in where she credits PYSF’s success. “I would attribute 99.9% to Molly. She is an incredible person as far as an individual who can run a junior program.”

Ashworth agrees that sailing, more than most other activities, teaches life skills. “With soccer or tennis or volleyball, it’s very didactic; you do what the coach tells you to do. With sailing, you’ve got to figure out how to sail the boat. You’re far more empowered. You do have to follow directions, but you have far more independence.”

Vandemoer said that the Bay Area as a whole is a pool of people from everywhere, from salt of the earth to high-level executives. “Because we’re a public program, there’s an attitude of, ‘Hey let’s make this what we want it to be.’ It’s a different set of expectations, and people are all about it.”

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the original story in Latitude 38.

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