Leave first timers wanting more

Published on December 13th, 2022

“If you build it, he will come” may have worked in the baseball film Field of Dreams, but promoting sailing tends to happen by recruiting one person at a time. While this report by champion iceboater Ron Sherry is from December 2016 , his words resonate just as much today, and not just for iceboating:

Like anything else in life, successful problem solving takes time and effort. The iceboating community needs to focus on attracting and retaining new sailors.

In this brief article I offer four simple ideas for promoting the sport we all love so much, such as giving a first ride, displaying boats, keeping a list of people who have expressed interest, and setting up a day for them to try sailing.

My hope is that this article will help you to develop new ideas of your own on how to promote our sport.

Sail GP

When I was younger, I sailed as fast as possible when I took anyone for their first ride. My goal was to scare the hell out of them! Although I thought it was a great idea at the time to leave a lasting impression, they usually didn’t come back for a second day. Now that I’m older and hopefully a little smarter, my goal for first timers is to leave them wanting more.

Like with iceboat racing, preparation is key for making someone’s first ride an enjoyable one. Bring extra clothes and helmets. Clearly describe to them what will happen and what to expect. Start out slow, ask them if they want to go faster, and debrief after the ride.

Keeping your first time rider warm and safe will help them to understand that this sport is not so crazy after all. I bring an extra Columbia one-piece suit that is easy to zip someone into, an extra Jofa Helmet with goggles, warm mittens, and spikes for their shoes that are easy to strap on.

Two years ago I called 76 year old Susie Vercruysse and asked if she’d like to take her first iceboat ride. Her husband, Don Vercruysse, raced DN US 21 for years. I gave her a clear plan, telling her to meet me in Leon LeBeau’s driveway in her warm car. I said that I would zip her into the warm suit, take her for a ride, and have her back in her warm car in 30 minutes.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of her year and a story she continues to share with her friends and family.

As I walked Susie to the boat, I described our sailing area and any hazards we needed to avoid. I told her where we would be sailing, what direction the wind was blowing, and the angles we would be sailing around the back of her house.

I told her we could sail very fast but made it clear that it was her choice if she wanted to go any faster. During the ride I warned her before we would tack or jibe. I asked her if she was alright and if she wanted to go faster. She was relaxed and comfortable and said yes to going faster so I pulled the sheet and we sailed quite fast.

On the walk back to her car we talked about the ride. She was disappointed to find out we only went 50 or 60 MPH. She said it felt like 100 MPH. When I called her today to ask if I could use her age in the article you could hear the enthusiasm and joy coming through the phone when describing the ride again. She hopes we can go again this year and wants to bring a friend.

Young or old, taking someone for their first ice boat ride will leave a lasting impression. Let’s make it the best impression possible. Having a two seater like an Arrow or a Nite is the best way to give someone their first ride. If you send someone off in a DN by themselves for their first ride, make sure the conditions are safe, they know where the hazards are, and give them instructions on what angles the boat sails best and to avoid beam reaching.

Give the first rider a description of where you want them to sail and make them do a short run and come back to you so you know they are in control and not going to go off and do something that can get them or your boat hurt. Be the guy that makes sure giving someone their first ice boat ride is a safe, exciting experience that they will tell all of their friends about. Don’t forget to take pictures and post them on social media.

Take the time once or twice a year to set your iceboats up for display, answer questions, and show videos of iceboating. Schools, churches, Scout meetings, yacht clubs, and junior regattas are all excellent venues to put the sport we all love on display. You have to be willing to load the boats, set them up, spend time talking to people at the show, take the boats down, and put them away.

People always want to know more about a sailboat that can go 100 MPH over a frozen lake. Kids and adults always want to sit in the boat and take pictures. Answer all questions and let everyone know how easy it is to get into iceboating, and how to do it safely.

When people complain about how cold they think iceboating would be, inform them about the new technology in clothing that makes it easier to stay warm. Take the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of people who want to give ice boating sailing a try. Be the guy who gives back to the sport by putting the boats on display for kids and adults. Generate a list of people that want to give ice boating sailing a try and take them for their first ride.

Everywhere I go people ask about iceboating. They want to know more about the sport and how they can give it a try. Unfortunately, what often happens is that when great ice sailing conditions arrive, you prepare for a perfect day on the ice, but you completely forget about everyone who told you they wanted to give it a try.

Make a list of people who tell you they want to try iceboating with their phone numbers and email addresses. Keep the list in the same place all the time so you know where it is. I use the last couple of pages of my order book which is always on my desk. Every time someone says they want to give iceboating a try, I put their contact information on the list.

With the pressures and excitement of going out on the ice, it is hard to remember those who expressed interest in trying ice boating. Having a list makes it a lot easier and will help you to not forget anyone. Be the guy that contacts everyone who wants to give ice boat sailing a try by having a list and letting them know when conditions are right. Not everyone will be able to go but some will show up and may be hooked for life like we are.

In the Detroit area we have an enthusiastic group of sailors who scout the ice all over southeastern Michigan. We keep in touch with each other about where we can sail, decide on a time and place to meet, and go sail our asses off.

At the end of the day, we gather to share a meal and drinks, debrief, and then we go home to work on our equipment so that we are ready for the next day. We scrub race all day with our good equipment, testing new things in preparation for the big regattas. Good ice is hard to find and when there are decent conditions, we spend our time exploring new ways to sail as fast as Matt Struble or Jim Grogan.

Testing out race equipment isn’t the time to let someone go for their first ride in your race rocket. Standing out on the ice watching scrub racing is not a fun way to spend a day either. As a group we need to pick a day or weekend when we can take people for rides.

Maybe we race for two hours and spend the rest of the day taking people for rides. Better yet take the whole day when conditions are right to give people the chance to try our sport. Make it fun for everyone by providing food, beverages, some chairs, and a fire pit.

BE THE GUY to pick a day with good conditions, use your contact list of people that want to try ice boating, bring spare equipment, or an old boat you might be willing to sell, two seaters, Skimmers, and take people for their first ride to promote the sport we all love so much.

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