Sunday, April 28, 2013

Growing Sailing- Girls Rule?

J/109 offshore cruiser racer- sailing with women crew (Newport, RI)- While sailing industry types scratch their heads trying to find the right formula to increase the number of kids in sailing programs, and sailing clubs and racing associations nationwide worry about declining memberships, sailing is shifting and growing under their feet.

Promoters repackage races to appeal to shoreside fans of testosterone-loaded extreme sports, selling sponsorships to brands which, in turn, hope fans will buy shirts or drinks, and sailboat builders seek designs hoping for mass appeal or some new “breakthrough” formula, all while sailing is being revolutionized from the inside out.

Sailing is becoming the activity of adult women.

Don’t believe it? Quick, say the last names of Ellen, Dawn, Betsy and Anna. You got them all in a few seconds right? Now try to do that quickly with the names of four guys who sail.

But it’s much more than a few popular female sailing athletes. This revolution isn’t being led by pros or celebrities, but by grassroots changes and on all new terms.

J/105 one-design sailboat- with women's sailing teamHere’s some evidence: Facebook analytics reports that among 1.1 million Americans who express an interest in sailing, women account for 51%, and 88% of them are over 25 years old. But they’re not just fans. Women under 24 and over 35 share their own sailing experiences on Facebook almost twice as often as men.

Consider that only 20 years ago, men outnumbered women in sailing 7-to-1.

You might see it in your town. What sailing center’s teaching staff isn’t dominated by strong, athletic, articulate and confident female sailing instructors? What collegiate sailing team doesn’t have at least as many women as men? What yacht club doesn’t like to boast about its first female commodore? And what regatta doesn’t overplay its all-female entries?

J109 cruiser racer sailboat- women's team sailing Solent, EnglandIn many cities near water in the U.S., women are organizing all-women teams and events. These events often grow organically out of a small network of veteran sailors who cobble together some used boats and recruit and help train newcomers until they’ve built a decent-sized fleet. In my town, summer Monday nights (the night the women sail) are the busiest nights on the bay.

When a sailing mom’s kids are very young, they get an inspiring early taste. They learn to be on and around boats and sailors, to wear life jackets, to touch water, and to be safe. Then, when her kids are old enough to be on a sailing team, the family becomes the team. Mom doesn’t sit in the bleachers at a soccer field, she trims the kite, steers the boat or calls tactics.

So, the most important person on any sailing boat is the mom. Think about it this way: When a mom sails with her kids (instead of driving them to soccer) she’s doing something deemed suited only to men just a few years ago, and she is not doing the things thought to be the status quo for moms today. She’s a renegade. An innovator. A leader.   Read on at SAILING Magazine.