(this was written for http://www.collegematchrace.com – doing live commentary November 19-21)
I hear this all the time: “I think I might want to change careers;” “you are so lucky you are a professional sailor;” or, “what a lifestyle!”
The reality is sailing professionally is hard work without a lot of monetary compensation. You have about a 15% chance of ending up wealthy… if you already started out wealthy. And if you dream of a home with 2.3 children and a significant other eating dinner at the table each night after you come home from a day of sailing… keep dreaming.
However, if you have a burning desire to take a risk and can’t explain exactly why, but just know that you have to try or you will spend the rest of your life disappointed, then you need a plan. The plan should be complete with to-do lists, project maps and budgets. You need to be flexible as in, “Yes, I’ll be on the plane to Abu Dabi in the morning.” But that flexibility doesn’t go two ways, because when you make a commitment, you need to honor. You need to learn to sleep on a couch, a pipe berth, in a trailer and, if necessary, in the back of a van. Understand what it truly means to be a nipper (translation: youngest, most inexperienced grunt in a big boat program). Be quiet, listen and don’t complain, and you will learn quickly. If you are a mainsail trimmer, you need to know how to do the mast. If you are a grinder, you need to know how to trim a sail as well as how to fix a winch.
The path to get into this game is hit or miss ─ there’s no college degree to become a professional in our sport. One way to expedite your career is to find a person or boat that you can sail with and/or work for, and then race as much as you possibly can. Unfortunately, you often end up labeled as a professional by ISAF before you have the qualifications and the experience to make a living at sailing. Oakcliff Sailing Center’s Acorn program is another path to get the training necessary to be a professional sailor. It’s also a place where you will work harder than you ever thought possible and will have more fun than you expected.
The chances of a successful lifelong career in the sport and industry of sailing is still a long shot. That’s why the Acorn program teaches life skills as well as sailing. For example, learning basic accounting will translate to a variety of opportunities both in and out of sailing. Oakcliff teaches how ethics fit in with the sport off the water. The comparative bidding process is a highly transferable skill, “Is that new sail cloth worth ‘x’ amount of money?” We also talk about life planning and mind mapping. Our program philosophy is that no matter how far you get in your quest to be a professional sailor, you will take the lessons you learn at Oakcliff with you into future successes.
One of the quickest paths that Oakcliff offers to learn sailing and the business of sailing is match racing. With the intense two boat, head-to-head format, you are either winning or losing and thus is it the most efficient method for learning everything from tactics to crew work, and how to work through stress on and off the water. The match race circuit is worldwide with a relatively easy path for entry, because you don’t need to own a boat to sail. You need all of the skills of a real sports business to put a campaign together, but it’s easy to get started practicing with two identical boats. They can be equally pristine or equally crappy as long as they are equal.
Here are just a few tidbits to know if you want to get into match racing:
- Start traveling to regional regattas at training centers like the ones in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.Get some points on the ISAF rankings and ask for invites, and go race.
- An average away match-racing regatta will cost you approximately $2500 including entry fee, plane tickets, hotel and food.
- Practice is ideally done in short two to three hour sessions with debriefing time scheduled in before you are brain dead.
- If you race, you should also be able to umpire.
So, if you’re going to tell your parents you’re about to take off to go sailing with your new college degree, you need a well thought out plan for that conversation, including a plan A, B and C, with timelines, deadlines and goals. Treat it like the businesses you may work in down the line and it will help you get there. If a goal isn’t nearly unreachable then it isn’t a goal… it is just something on your to do list. Good luck and consider coming to Oakcliff as your Plan A.