Every summer junior sailing program requires an annual review, and while each program is unique, they all need to ask these two questions:
- How is the attrition rate?
- Are we providing skills for kids to become life sailors?
Truth is, these two questions are connected. There will always be an attrition rate, so the goal is to minimize it. How? By providing a range of programming that reflects the diversity in sailing. But are parents of young children asking these two questions?
What so many US yacht clubs have gotten good at is providing the skills needed for high school and college competition. That is as far as most parents can see, which is how so many clubs now own fleets of Club Flying Juniors and Club 420s. While participation is phenomenal in these classes, it certainly does not reflect the diversity in sailing.
Worse yet, it certainly is not what every kid wants to do. Plus, what about the skills and experiences needed to continue in the sport after school ends? If the mission is to really teach sailing and provide a base from which a young sailor can then fully explore the sport, no type of sailing does it better than windsurfing.
"It's the most organic way of sailing," notes two-time Olympic medallist Charlie McKee. "Windsurfing teaches great skills like balance, agility, and feel for speed, which are all abilities that can be transferred to any boat if desired."
What's notable is that when over 400 of the world's best young windsurfers meet at the 2016 Techno 293 World Championships next week in Italy, all six of the USA entries will be products of Miami Yacht Club in Miami, FL.
Two facts should jump off the page. One is that 400+ kids under 17 years is a huge event. The Techno 293 is THE youth windsurfing class. The other is that only one club in the USA, in this huge country, is sending kids to it. Who gave MYC the monopoly on youth windsurfing?
"America needs to embrace windsurfing," says Leandro Spina, U.S. Olympic Youth Development Director. "It is the perfect development platform for all skills needed later in one's sailing life. Plus, not only is it so much fun, but it also is so healthy. At the 2016 US Youth Championships, the windsurfers were hands down the fittest sailors out of the whole group."
By the way, all seven sailors that competed in the Techno 293 class at the US Youth Champs were from Miami Yacht Club, which was also home to RS:X sailor Pedro Pascual who represented the US at the Rio Olympic Games.
Whether it be windsurfing or keelboats or catamarans or something else, youth sailing programs need the kind of diversity and long vision that both trains and launches young people on a path that will carry them well beyond their youth years.