Youth Sailing: Expanding the kid’s menu

Published on May 18th, 2021

The organization of youth sailing in the USA provides outstanding structure and training for those kids who are enthusiastic about the program, but it has long been the position of this publication that limiting choices for youth sailors is misguided.

Our sport has a massive range of boat types and event formats because of varying interests, and promoting options early in the youth cycle not only helps teach skills but helps in retention. Not every kid loves chicken fingers and cheese pizza on the kid’s menu and a steady diet of both gets tiring.

Fortunately, this message has gotten traction, and while today’s young sailors are still unlikely to climb on any local boat as was done generations ago, their appetite is getting more choices. Here’s a story about a teenager from Lakewood Yacht Club (Seabrook, TX) that is enjoying the buffet table:

While COVID 19 has presented all of us with difficulties, setbacks and losses, it has also opened our eyes to different ways to approach our lives and our work. Noah Zittrer decided not to attend traditional high school this year (his Senior year), which has permitted him to dedicate a significant amount of time to his favorite pursuits – kiting and sailing.

After the Optimist, Noah found himself without a boat to compete in. Not satisfied with sailing 420s, and not being large enough to competitively race Lasers, he taught himself to kite. Ultimately, he turned his skills to Formula Kite, the newest of the Olympic sailing disciplines to be incorporated into the Paris 2024 Olympics.

He and his best friend, also named Noah, taught each other how to fly ram air kites and ride carbon fiber foils. Both have recently caught the attention of US Sailing and are now a regular part of the Olympic Development Squad for Formula Kite. But kiting is not quite enough for Noah, and he has also elected to sail 29er skiffs and the venerable Snipe.

Because he can take his school on the road, Noah has spent much of his winter in Florida sailing. In mid-January he traveled to St. Petersburg to participate in a kite Olympic Development Program (ODP) clinic, coached by two-time Olympic medalist Charlie McKee, and two formula kite regattas.

After four days of coaching and training with the best US Formula Kite sailors, Noah finished the first 2-day event hosted by St. Petersburg Yacht Club in 5th place overall, and first in the U18 category.

Four days later, Clearwater hosted one of six US Open Sailing Series events that will be held this year. Conditions were variable over the four days of racing. Noah put his sailing and tactical training to use, selecting the right sails, getting good starts and sailing the breeze given, and ultimately finished 4th overall.

Two days later, he moved over to Miami and spent two days training in the 29er in preparation for the 29er Midwinters East held February 13-15. Noah is relatively new to the 29er and, since December, has paired with Clark Morris of the American Yacht Club for three events, with Clark as skipper and Noah as crew. Years of foiling seem to have prepared Noah well for an easy transition to being 29er crew.

Clark and Noah led the first two days of the event but going into the third day were in second place after losing a protest made by the second-place boat. But they came out swinging on the first race of the final day of racing, finishing the race more than a minute ahead of the second-place boat. This tied them for first.

On the second and final race of the regatta, the boys were pushed into a poor start by successful match race maneuvering of the team with whom they were tied. They got pinned on the left side of the course and rounded the top mark near last. However, the boys slipped away from their rivals on the first downwind leg, and ultimately passed eight boats to secure 6th in the race, winning the regatta with a two-point lead.

On March 1, Noah headed to La Ventana, Mexico to again train with the other U.S. Formula kite sailors for 10 days. In April, he went go back to Miami to continue training in the Snipe, sailing in the Don Q Snipe Regatta and then the 29er at the Skiff Generation Grand Prix.

How’s that for a buffet table!

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