Growing up as I kid, I was involved in several sports which I loved. Soccer, Tennis Badminton, Rugby, Skiing, all wonderful sports
which helped keep me fit and make new friends. But my life completely changed when I discovered sailboat racing. I was lucky to live close to a club that offered month long sailing programs in the summer and that's where I discovered a talent and passion for sailing. I just wasn't very good at the other sports. I was slow on the field for soccer and rugby and was often benched. I struggled in Tennis tournaments often getting knocked out the first day, but with sailing, I discovered something that is so multi dimensional and interesting compared to the other sports.
Sailing is a sport that offers people of any size or fitness level a chance to win. It's one of the oldest Olympic events and was one of the events in the very first Olympics in Greece centuries ago. In the current Olympics there are 7 different boat types that allow men and women to compete and one class that even demands that women and men pair up as a team in order to compete. I'll go into what each boat is like in a later blog but for now here
are the reasons why I think sailing is the best sport ever.
1) It's Multidimensional. There are more factors to think about in sailing than any other sport. It's technical, you need to optimize your boat and equipment. It's physical, with some classes like the Laser demanding incredible fitness while other classes less so. It requires studying the natural environment which is beautiful in itself. You need to observe wind, waves and currents and use them to your advantage. It's tactical, you need to think about how your boat interacts with others on the course and use rules to your advantage. One of my friends described sailing as playing chess with a firehose squirting at your face while running a marathon.
2) You can't be benched or eliminated. Sailing events are called "Regattas" and are usually held over 2 to 4 days. World championships are usually 7 days long. Anyone can participate at a Regatta and compete whether you are 12 or 75 or even 80!. Unlike football or other contact sports, you can compete all your life. And unlike Tennis, you can't be eliminated after two matches. In sailing, you get to compete in all the scheduled races.
3) All body types can play. You can be light or heavy as there are different types of boats to accommodate your body type. If you are short in Basketball or small in Football at some point you are going to face some severe disadvantages. Not so in sailing. There are different boat types for small people and big people.
4) Longer periods of activity. Each race is about 1 hour in duration with 2 to 3 races sailed each day unlike downhill skiing with 2 races a day that last 1 to 2 minutes. Your mind and body are engaged for 3 to 4 hours each day during a regatta.
5) You're playing in the natural world. Unlike gym sports, sailors compete in nature where the sunshine reflects off the waves and wind and spray re-style your hair. Wether you are sailing in big ocean waves, rivers or lakes you are immersed in a beautiful and wild environment that few people get to experience.
6) It's all about physics. While you don't have to know physics in order to sail, you will learn concepts that incorporate physics. You need to know how to change the shape of your sails in order to optimize them for a given wind direction. You will learn how natural forces affect your boat and the mechanical advantages of rope systems as well as material science.
7) It's thrilling. Believe me, there is no bigger rush than surfing down a wave with your boat planing over the water like a motor boat. The feeling of accomplishment when you learn to control the power that a boat can generate is thrilling. Yes you will capsize a lot on your adventure to mastery of sailing but that's part of the fun. I'll never forget the first time my boat capsized and I was ejected into the water. However, the consequences of falling in water is nothing compared to a downhill ski wipeout or other contact sports. The risk of injury is comparatively very low.
8) Camaraderie. It's an un-written rule in sailing that sailors help each other figure out the sport. Once you're a competing sailor, its like you are part of some strange cult. When you meet other sailors even from across the globe, you have something special in common. You've both experienced the joy of sailing well and the frustration and hilarity of wiping out. Sailors will become your best friends.
9) Solo or Teamwork. In sailing you have a number of choices. You can compete in single handed classes like the Laser, Windsurfer, Kiteboard or Finn. Or you can compete with one other person in double handed classes such as the 49er or 470. Or you can become part of a 4 or 8 persons team on a keelboat.
10) Foiling. Are you ready to fly over the water? The last 7 years has seen an explosion of boats and boards that now rise up out of the water! Can you say Serotonin Explosion in your brain? (that's good stuff by the way).
11) Women can compete equally with Men. Show me another sport where this can happen. In some classes, women can be just as good as men and in one class it's actually required that teams are both men and women - the Nacra 17.
12) It's lifelong learning. Even the world's best sailors learn new things every day.
13) It's all about family. Take your family sailing! It's were you can do something truly engaging together. Go out for an afternoon, do some overnight cruising or even race in your local yacht club series.
Ok, now that I've hopefully convinced you that sailing is the best sport ever, how can you get started? We started Lake Tahoe Sailing to help people test the waters. You can book a 3 hour adventure with us where you can take up to six people on the water on a safe 33 foot keelboat with a competent licensed captain. You will learn how to trim sails and steer the boat and how a sailboat works. The next step is to take sailing classes that are offered at various schools around the country. You can also visit a local yacht club and sign up to be part of a keelboat crew. Then when you know that sailing is for you, it's time to buy a boat. For different boat options please read my next blog article on what kind of boat is best for you and your family.
See you on the water!