Views from across both hemispheres
Published on January 29th, 2024
When it comes to the health of the sport, it’s rarely one thing and varies from venue to venue. It’s also less about national federations, and more about boots on the ground. But key issues tend to be without borders, with Len Burke sharing views accrued from across both hemispheres:
So many factors affect why we see a decline in participation. I would like to offer my opinion as to what I have observed over decades of being both a skiff sailor and a global ocean racer.
• Too many classes that dilute the interest of young people. Young people want challenges and activity, not slow boats. Skiffs are boats that excite, not bore.
• No proper structure of commitment, both by clubs and sailors. By that I mean a season schedule of one day racing, every weekend be it Saturday or Sunday. It`s called a commitment.
• Cost of equipment which drives most families out of the sport.
• Over coaching (expenditure by parents) so little Johnny or Sarah has a shot at the Olympics.
• Lack of proper commitment at the club level to promote just local enjoyable sailing, and not just money-making regattas.
• The ever more pull of social media, outside peer pressure, and young people wanting to experience new ventures.
If you look at the club sailing in Australia and New Zealand and the dinghy clubs in the UK, you see a structured set up of making a commitment to sail one day each weekend for the summer season.
A good case in point is the Australian 18-footer sailing in Sydney. As a crew you make a commitment to race the full season. The set up is that you can be club champion, join other clubs for your nation title, and then raise funds permitting for a world championship.
The building blocks are clubs with a weekly sailing format, not sporadic regattas at the club to raise money. This is something America lacks, as it`s all about hitting the next regatta with the best coach (big money from mum and dad) rather than the excitement of winning the club season point score or the club championship.
You want to make sailing fun, get the cost down, stop the over-spending by the parents of kids who give junior too much too soon to make him climb above the kids who just want to enjoy the love of sailing and the character building that it brings.
Ask the kids what classes they want to race in. Don`t make them race fruit boxes with a gaff, only to leave the sport at 13.
Here`s an idea, let’s go back to home built, or CNC plywood garage or factory-built skiffs.
Australia and New Zealand do this, and it works. Get the youngster involved in a project of sweat equity in creating a boat that has your heart and soul and pride built in, and not just a loan from the bank for an overpriced slow boat.
Think home or class built, Javelins, Flying ants, Cherubs, and 12-foot skiffs. All the great classes from OZ, NZ, and UK. Nothing is more of an oxymoron than a Flying Scot. Slow boats kill youth excitement. Young people want fast and fun, not slow and boring.