Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reflections from the President

By US Sailing President Tom Hubbell
The reviews and feedback we have received from the Sailing Leadership Forum in San Diego earlier this month reveals that a lot of good people have a variety of good approaches to strengthen and grow the sport. They’re excited. I’m delighted to see this energy and creativity flowing into sailing.
What follows is one thoughtful commentary from Lou Sandoval's blog, Co-Owner/Co-Founder Karma Yacht Sales, with permission, slightly condensed.

Lou leads with a reflection on getting acquainted with a sailor on the plane going to San Diego. 

“I’m a huge believer that nothing happens to us and people don’t come in to our lives that aren’t intended to provoke a situational awareness and produce an intentional break in our way of being and thinking... Like most sailors, we shared a passion for the sport and a genuine interest in making sure that generations beyond ours continued to enjoy it.

Looking back at the week, (that airplane conversation) truly set the tone for what US Sailing was looking to accomplish with the forum - collaboration. In looking at the age of the attendees and the number of women that attended the conference, it renewed my hopes… It takes these moments of sharing ideas for us all to get the successes that have worked in other parts of the country…”

Lou’s Top Five Take-aways:

Keep Sailing Simple: Because we are passionate about the sport, we expect everyone to see things through our ‘passion point’. In attracting a broader audience we need to understand that someone with no sailing background is lost in the technical jargon that we so easily use to describe the sport… In this same category comes the fact that we focus way too much on sailboat racing. You have to walk before you run and often. There is a huge push to race before we truly get why sailing is special. Things change on the water. Getting people to “get” the lifestyle is important before we start complicating things with a whole new range of terminology and ‘rules’.

Control our own Narrative: If you open any sail publication, you will see a focus on the uber expensive and ‘out of reach’ boats. What this portrayal does is further the narrative that sailing is exclusive, expensive and for the ‘select few’… Nowhere is there a discussion of the ‘spectrum of participation.’ I would add to this that the imagery (the advertising photos we use to depict the sport) we utilize to "tell the sailing story" need to be consistent with the portion of the demographic we seek to attract. Simply put, we need to continue to show more women in the sport, more diverse participants. We know older participants are in the sport, that is great, but our story should show families using boats to commune, children on boats doing what kids do best - have fun. This is everyone's responsibility, but especially professional media and all industry stakeholders. We, the participants of the sport need to be the ambassadors that talk about the lifestyle in simple terms. The fact that sailing is sensory stimulation that you can feel (wind in your hair; warm sun on your face), hear (turbulence of the water), and see (all the great scenery there is to see of the land from the water). It truly is one of life’s greatest experiences and in a way, a very therapeutic one where you forget whichever stressor you might be undergoing in your ‘on land’ life.

STEM is the Way: The terrain in our country has changed from production-based economy to a consumption-based economy (A ‘sailboat’ is the world’s best science ‘wet lab’) as community sailing centers are able to engage the application of (US Sailing’s REACH) STEM education and partner with public school systems they will make sailing relevant again. The sailing part can augment a STEM based after-school program and be the laboratory that provides the practical application of geometry, calculus, applied physics, biology… The list is endless… It also allows us to take sailing to a whole new generation of sailors of diverse backgrounds that we aren’t serving today.

Diversity: What we look like today is not what we will look like tomorrow: As someone who never ever thought they would end up on a sailboat, much less owning a company in the boating industry, this is very near and dear. Add to that, that I have two daughters and I harbor hope that the world they grow up in will be vastly different "than the one in which I did" - IS my driving force. I can revisit the statistics, but I think the picture is clear. For sailing (and boating in general) to stay alive it is imperative that today’s participants make the sport as inclusive as possible… More women active in sailing is good for the sport both now and in the future. Fast forward fifteen years… the girls in sailing programs or going on family sailing excursions today will someday have families. There is a greater chance that sailing will be a part of their stable of activities if they are engaged in the sport today. Short-term benefits and long-term benefits abound in this strategy, but it takes everyone promoting this. Extending the reach of the sport to ethnic groups that might not be predominant in the sport today is also very healthy for sailing.

I’m confident after seeing the participants at the forum that the future of sailing is bright and inside of the stodgy old ‘network’, a new era of leadership is emerging, one that is younger and vastly different than those that came before them… Again, it will take every participant in sailing becoming ambassadors for this cause. Ask someone new out to sail. Share your passion!

Sailing Participation is a Spectrum: The spectrum of participation is much like that of home ownership. There are apartments that people can rent, or condos that they can buy until they are ready for the ‘home’. It’s all dependent on what phase of the cycle they are in; how spontaneous they want to be (on a scheduled number of days or free to go when you can) or their time and availability. This spectrum has a place for everyone and at every price range for different budgets. The thing to remember about sailing is that you don’t need to own a boat to participate.  It is in participating that you learn to love it and that may lead to becoming a greater stakeholder. This mission is a responsibility of everyone in the ‘ecosystem’ - yacht clubs, outfitters, brokers, sailing centers, charter operators, fractional lease companies. Everyone needs to strive for new participants to achieve a quality experience at all levels.

At the end of it all, it is important to move the sailing community past the awareness phase and into a phase of acting on our new knowledge. So, the follow-up to this forum and action items will be most the most critical steps coming out of the San Diego forum. I have my list as I’m sure many attendees have theirs. It will be important for each participant to take their list to the local level and get busy. I’ll do my part.

If you didn't make it this year, put the next SLF on your calendar. I challenge you to become part of what sailing is yet to become.

Learn more about the Sailing Leadership Forum, including presentations, videos, news and more.

Learn more about US Sailing's REACH – STEM program

Thanks Lou Sandoval. I couldn’t have said it better than that.

Share the magic of sailing,

Tom Hubbell
US Sailing President

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