Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Changing Face of Sailing.

A recent editorial by Wanda Kenton-Smith in Trade Only titled "At last, they’re beginning to get it: it’s not just a white male market" broached the subject of diversity in the 'boating industry'. It's a topic near and dear to my heart for obvious reasons and on several fronts.

Beyond Gender:
As a father of two small girls- I think about it alot. While solo circumnavigator Ellen MacArthur broke the proverbial 'glass ceiling' in 2005, there have been many women that my daughters can look up to. Among them Yngling sailor and Rolex Yachtswoman of the year for 2007 Sally Barkow or more recently 2008 Olympic Gold Medal winner-Lasers Anna Tunnicliff. These women are part of the new generation of sailors that are benchmarking the sport for those to follow in their footsteps. Having started in the sport at very young ages- they serve as an inspiration for many in older generations as well that gender inclusiveness is possible.

I see this at times in selling boats to couples. I'll hear- "Oh that's ok- he drives, I crew" or "It's his toy". I often challenge the status quo and ask- "OK what happens if he can't sail you both back in to the harbor?" I usually get blank looks. To which I respond- "I have a book I need you to read. It's called: It's Your Boat Too by Suzanne Giesmann. " Read it and let me know what you think.

A few year's back we had Suzanne out to Strictly Sail to speak to our Beneteau owners about her book. There were many who stood behind, looking for a second to share Thank You's with Suzanne about her topic. At the conclusion, it seemed generational but It appeared that progress had been made. I hope it continues. One hurdle down- a few more to go.

Beyond Race:
Bill Pinkney is one of a handful of sailors who have transcended the racial lines in the world of sailing. . The African-American sailor with origins in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago was first exposed to sailing in the Naval Reserves. He has gone on to inspire many young black sailors to take up the sport. Bill still is one of a handful who have done so. If you look through the archives of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, you'll be hard pressed to find other minorities that have set benchmarks in the sport.

We are at the forefront of a shift in the sport, while those of us in our third, fourth or fifth decade of life might say that it's still an oddity. All one has to do is look at the ranks of the small boat sailors and you find individuals like Augie Diaz, the cuban born Snipe sailor or Olympic windsurfer Nancy Rios to see the changing face of sailing. Small sailing vessel classes such as the Hobie 16 are proving to be incubators for hispanic sailors as well. As one of the largest and fastest growing ethnic groups, I can only hope that this trend continues. Our sport needs to continue to grow.

What's best for the sport is inclusiveness at the gender and ethnic level. It will require strong junior sailing programs at the yacht club level. Feeder programs such as the Sea Scouts that provide exposure to the sport for inner city children. Programs such as Rickover Academy (an innovative program in the Chicago Public School network) that exposes Chicago teens to the maritime arts. It takes hard work by all of us. It requires all of us to invite and continue to invite people new to the sport. Who knows when it will make a difference in someone's life and set off a chain of events that leads to their growth in sailing.

At the recent Mac awards dinner, Karma Sailing Group had the honor of sponsoring a cadet from the Rickover Academy at our table. Our cadet was a sophmore at the Academy. When I asked if she had been sailing yet, she replied "No, but I plan to next season". She struck up a rapport with my wife Sonia. We shared that we had two young daughters that we hoped would grow up in the sport. "It's important" our cadet echoed. "It helps with so many things in life to be exposed early to things." Profound words from one so young in age.

I look forward to the day when I can go to a regatta or walk down the docks and ALL types of people. Our sport needs this. That is when I'll know sailing has hit the mainstream. That's when I'll know that the hard work in promoting the sport has paid off.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this subject. E-mail me your comments or post them on the blog.