We had the privilege of catching up with world-renowned sailor Peter Isler to get his thoughts on the state of sailing and racing today:
ASA: When it comes to local club racing, how does the future look from where you sit?
Isler: My opinion has always been that [club racing] is certainly a foundation of sailboat racing and the way to keep it healthy is to emphasize the social aspects of the sport. I think the reason people get into sailing and stay in sailing is more than just getting out on the water, being one with nature and doing all the fun things on the boat – it’s also the people.
Part of the changes in sailing are due to the changes in our society and how people choose to allot their free time. In my mind, I think part of it is, that there’s been more separation within youth sailing and adult sailing – meaning there’s fewer times when the kids and adults sail with each other and against each other. Something in my gut says that’s not a good thing.
ASA: Do you think the type of boat kids sail is important to keeping them hooked?
Isler: I’m not sure what the ultimate entry-level boat is but I don’t think it really matters. Bic verses Sabot may be less important than the next level up where kids know how to trim a sail and move their weight around from whatever they learned on. When they move on they’ll get on a boat that challenges them. That said, the problem with the lighter weight high-performance boats is that there aren’t a lot of adults sailing them. So when they go to midwinters, or nationals, or weekend regatta, it’s all kids without adults competing. It’s good to have the opportunity to learn and socialize with a broader base.
ASA: What about the drop-off of kids as they get older? Do you think sailing is losing more troops these days?
Isler: There was always the challenge of the drop-off of kids as they hit their later teens. They’re getting pulled in a lot of different directions, and certainly the directions they’re getting pulled in are different now than 30 years ago. So, if more kids get pulled away, does that mean sailing or youth-sailing has somehow failed, or is it just a change in society and it would happen anyway? It’s a complicated question.
ASA: What other components do you think are important for sailboat racing to thrive?
Isler: I think it’s important to feel like you have a chance. If you’re a competitive person and you go out and get pounded all the time, then realize you have to spend way way way more time and money to win in this thing – a lot of people are going to go away.
ASA: So, one design racing is a good thing.
Isler: One design is a great thing.
ASA: Do you feel responsibility, as a person prominent in the sport, to promote and protect sailing or do you prefer to allow things to take their own course?
Isler: I’ve always felt the compulsion to share my joy of sailing to anyone who wants to listen. I’m very interested in the health of the sport and keeping kids and everyone else in it because the sport’s been so good to me.