Being the adult in the room

Published on May 9th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I was attending a session at the 2018 World Sailing Annual Conference regarding injuries which detailed how the shift toward high performance Olympic boats had led to an increase in ailments. This discovery wasn’t much of a discovery, as fast boats stop fast too, with sailors tossed like crash test dummies. The body loses in that battle.

While it is always good for such admissions to be said out loud, I wondered where as a sport we were headed. Just then, from a few rows behind me, two-time Olympic medalist and Volvo Ocean Race winner Ian Walker asked the rhetorical question, “When is enough, enough?” At the close of the session, I walked over to thank him for being the adult in the room.

The following year, again at the World Sailing Annual Conference, Ian pulled me aside to share some news. Since 2017, Walker had been the Director of Racing for the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), and the organization had realized how the sport was not helped by the heightened emphasis of youth competition.

It was refreshing to hear how the RYA, which is the undisputed leader in Olympic sailing, saw throttling back as a win-win. There would remain channels for elite sailors to excel, but they were re-imagining their programs to keep from swallowing up kids better suited for a lesser commitment to sailing.

Having someone like Walker working for a national sailing federation gave me comfort the sport wasn’t spiraling out of control, so I was admittedly bummed when the news broke a month ago that he was stepping down from his position as RYA Racing Director. Why, I wondered?

That question was answered with the announcement that his next career move puts him at the helm of North Sails UK. Said Walker, “Joining North Sails is an excellent opportunity to be an active voice in the marine industry and part of the industry’s leading brand.”

Considering the rising cost to compete, which I addressed in The State of the Sport in 2020, maybe Walker will prove again to be the adult in the room. Hope so!

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