Opinion: Ahoy, MIL: Time to set sail for a new horizon with sailing

Kai Ponting, Staff Writer

People often have large misconceptions about the sport of sailing. When I tell people that I sail, most people either ask me if I kitesurf or windsurf, or they exclaim that they did not know that sailing dinghies and keelboats was really an option. In fact, sailing is a sport that encompasses a great deal of skill, and one that deserves more recognition and participation from athletes.

Sailing’s focus on strategy and quick thinking, combined with the athleticism required to keep small boats moving fast, would make sailing an ideal addition to the MIL. It would provide a new watersport opportunity for the island, and a fun, new, and interesting way to compete, as well as a useful, lifelong skill.

Sailing is often viewed as a lazy man’s sport, made up of rich “athletes” who sail around a racecourse, drinking champagne. In reality, it is a sport that involves both the mind and body, and is definitely not exclusive to the rich. It is not simply a contest of strength, like paddling, or a contest of mental ability and skill, like air riflery. One must work physically to keep the boat from capsizing, while looking around, analyzing the racecourse and trying to find the next shift or the best way to cover an opponent. While paddling and air riflery are both technical sports in their own right, sailing is an unique combination of mental and physical strength. Its various benefits and uniqueness as a sport make it a perfect addition to the MIL, as a new boys and girls sport.

Sailing already has a presence in Hawaii, as it is a recognized sport in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH). Schools like Punahou, Iolani, and others compete in regattas off Waikiki, in a traditional collegiate-style format, where boats are rotated between teams to make sure that no one is stuck in a lower-quality boat for the entire regatta. Regattas can go on for a day or multiple days, and include all schools at once, removing the need for complex tournament formats found in other high school sports like volleyball or tennis.

Sailing is also nationally recognized, with 55 high schools in the PCISA (Pacific Coast Interscholastic Sailing Association) alone, and far more represented nationally. Sailing gives the opportunity to compete on this national stage without qualifying events, allowing every sailor to get a taste of more than just county or state regattas.

Sailing, however, does have its drawbacks. The first is cost: to buy used boats from a yacht club or another school would be a large investment for Maui high schools, and upkeep on a boat is often difficult. However, it would not be the most expensive sport in terms of equipment cost. A new outrigger canoe, which most schools on Maui have invested in, can cost as much as $20,000, enough for five well-prepared and raceable two-person dinghies. This, like a canoe, would simply be a one-time cost, with the boats able to be raced for years to come. Schools could also use some of the resources of the Lahaina Yacht Club or other local clubs for both storage space and boats to use.

Additionally, if sailing becomes popular, private owners and clubs could buy boats to compete in club racing, and let high schoolers use them to practice and race, similar to how paddling works today. As the fleet sizes grow, it would become easier to accommodate sailors and let everyone practice regularly. Race organizers could run up to eight races in a day, meaning scoring would be fair as long as conditions are consistent.

Another issue sailing could face is the fact that not many people, at this time, know how to sail or race. Sailing is not a sport like running or paddling, where the motions are fairly easy to teach and memorize. Sailing is a sport that requires some learning, because knowledge of how the sails and foils work together to create forward motion, and what that feels like on the water is not something that can be taught in a day. However, there are already summer programs for learning sailing available, and more could be added in the future to increase participation and competitiveness on the racecourse.

I have a long history with the sport of sailing, starting in the sixth grade during Winterim and continuing to today. I continued sailing because I found the strategic element of the competition exciting, as I was not just trying to be faster than my opponents, I could use ever-changing winds and currents to gain an advantage. I quickly progressed from county competitions to statewide regattas and national races, traveling all over California and Oregon to race dinghies and keelboats.
I also realized I could sail in college, and by senior year was reaching out to schools with sailing programs with the hope of finding opportunities there. Although I found opportunities to sail statewide and on a club level, I have often wished sailing counted towards the MIL so I did not have to double sport some seasons in my freshman and sophomore years and so I could compete more regularly, instead of competing in Hawaii’s inconsistent regatta schedule.

Hawaii is one of the best sailing destinations in the world due to its consistently windy conditions, and colleges recognize this. While the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) prohibits any athletic scholarships for sailing, coaches certainly have a sway in admissions. This is especially prominent among East Coast schools, where yacht clubs are well-funded and bring investment into sailing colleges, so there is pressure on coaches to find good sailors to recruit. Sailors from Hawaii catch the eye of these coaches, as Hawaii’s heavy-air conditions mean that sailors are capable and skilled, something that every coach wants. Sailing could provide a route into a good East Coast school for some Maui students, if that is what they want.

Overall, sailing would be a worthy addition to the MIL calendar, probably in the spring, in line with the double-handed sailing season across the country. It would test the both the mental and physical strengths of its athletes, requiring a quick, reflexive mind and a strong pair of legs and core. It could provide a path on to college, and a lifelong skill for many.