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Struggles in sailing: THERE'S NO MORE STREET BALL
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The Publisher
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Oct 2, 2012, 10:55 AM

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THERE'S NO MORE STREET BALL
Scott Ostler, a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, was
considering why there were so few Americans in the America's Cup. However,
the story he published sparks a conversation that goes well beyond the
America's Cup, and discusses issues aimed at the root of sailing in
America.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
I found a man with an interesting opinion. Zach Berkowitz is a
world-champion sailor (I-14), former TV weatherman, and the creator of the
website Cupnetwork.com. Zach is a homeboy, grew up sailing the waters off
SFO with John Kostecki. He knows the game. So what's wrong?

"There's no more street ball," Berkowitz said.

He explained that when he was a kid, sailing was an adventure undertaken
for adventure's sake, far away from parents and coaches. But sailing went
the way of baseball and basketball and soccer. It evolved (devolved?) into
a sport where the kiddies are coached and parented to a fare-thee-well.

"The problem is over-coaching," Berkowitz said. "When I was a kid, we'd
sail from the San Francisco Yacht Club to Richmond, get back at midnight.
Our parents might get worried and call the Coast Guard, but we'd be back
doing it the next week.

"We'd get a rush putting the big spinnaker up and seeing how fast we could
go before we'd crash. We'd push and push and push, to get that extra rush."

Now, for kids who enjoy pushing, and adventure, there are sexier options
than sailing. What we do now with li'l sailors, Berkowitz said, is, "We
keep 'em in smaller, slower boats. They don't sail on their own. They lack
the creative elements."

Australia and New Zealand are pumping out the top sailors.

"The mentality in Australia and New Zealand is to push, to learn to
understand speed and what happens," Berkowitz said. "They put (kids) in
high-performance boats when they're growing up, pushing the fun level."

As Berkowitz sees it, the new school of American sailing is a betrayal of
the very spirit of California and the Bay Area.

"No one takes any risks," Berkowitz said. "Part of Silicon Valley and
California is taking risks, going outside the box. Today (in youth sailing)
it's not about risks, it's about moving down the path we have determined."

How sad is that? America, with the Bay Area complicit, has rendered itself
irrelevant in big-time sailing by abandoning our roots and heritage. We
have wimped out.

Surely there are other reasons for the dearth of U.S. sailors on America's
Cup boats. The sport has become much more athletic over the years, and the
most athletic American kids gravitate to the most popular sports. It's hard
to imagine that Buster Posey, Michael Vick and LeBron James, had they opted
for Little League sailing, could not have developed into world-class
sailors.

Still, our country used to produce sailors who pushed envelopes, damn the
torpedoes. Ted Turner, who skippered Courageous to the '77 Cup win, was
such an out-of-control sailor as a child that he was nicknamed the Capsize
Kid. Look where that approach got him, in life and in the America's Cup.

American sailing has a fever and there's only one prescription: more
swashbuckle. Either that or we must teach our young sailors to speak
Australian, mate. Full story: http://tinyurl.com/SFC-093012




The Publisher
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Oct 2, 2012, 10:56 AM

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From Roger Vaughan:
Scott Ostler is right on when he says sailing has "devolved" from an
adventure to another sport run by helicopter parents and
coaches; how the crash-and-burn, push-over-the-edge by kids left to their
own devices is a thing of the past in this country. But it's not such a new
phenomenon.

The late Bob Bavier, Yachting Magazine President, America's Cup winner
(1964), President of NAYRU (now USSailing), and inductee in the 2012 class
of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, wrote this in his monthly column 42
years ago: "We still bring up our youngsters in tame, relatively heavy
boats. We are not in tune with the rest of the world that is zeroing in on
light, sporting, two-man centerboarders often equipped with trapezes."

This is not just about sailing. It reflects a national malaise. The concept
of "risk," upon which this country was founded, has become a bad word in
some ever-expanding circles.


From Todd R. Berman:
Zach Berkowitz is on to something with "No More Street Ball". The shortcoming
of American youth sailing is as much spiritual as they are mechanical.
Let kids go wild in fast boats without coaching or adult "hyper"
supervision and they will develop the instinctual love of speed rather
than the more robotic mechanical parts of being fast in a boat.

Obviously the solution is a blend of factors but Zach's observations are a
thread that almost nobody wants to pull at in American youth sports today.

We are seeing the same things from young athletes in other sports. Today's
18 year old up and coming American soccer star may have been professionally
coached on groomed fields since being 8 years old, and that player may have
wonderful athletic and technical skills for the game. However, in many
cases they sadly lack the creativity and love that blossoms from a youth
spent without obsessive coaching in the streets and beaches of Brazil.




The Publisher
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Oct 2, 2012, 11:01 AM

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From Skip Novak:
Zach Berkowitz’s interview with Scott Oslter hit the nail on the head. You can say the same phenomenon exists in the Volvo Ocean Race. Not many Americans compete, in spite of the American stopovers as a feature since Volvo took over the event in the early 90’s.

In the Whitbread era there was only a handful of American crew involved. It was perceived as a crackpot game by the mainstream sailors of those years. I used to ask myself, while I was searching for American sponsorship in the 80’s, albeit prematurely for many reasons, where is the sense of adventure? There was none. There were no takers. And where were the icons of the sailing genre? We had none. The French had Tabarly and Moitessier, the British had Knox-Johnston and Blyth, New Zealand had Blake. Well, we did have Dennis, but he hardly fit the bill as an adventurous sort - sorry Dennis.

I grew up on Lake Michigan, and like Zach’s experience, we were a gang of kids who were always out on the edge and unknown to us, probably on the verge on catastrophe, but our world, the Chicago lake front, was one big adventure. We ‘borrowed’ our father's boats, stayed out all night sailing and getting into all sorts of situations. At the same time, we were given immense responsibility by our elders. We were trusted. I was delivering boats up and down the lake at age 18. All in all, growing up on the lake essentially free and a ‘loose cannon’ was a dream for a kid from the Chicago suburbs. It was the desire, kindled back there, to sail and travel further offshore which led to a career in around the world racing which later evolved into high latitude expedition sailing.

I am convinced that this beginning has kept most of the ‘Harbor Rats,’ with a few exceptions, lifelong sailors of some description or another. We were in the dinghy program, but it wasn’t the program that made our lives so rich, it was what happened after when we were on our own and invented one situation after another.

Our kids today are simply ‘programmed out.’ My 9 and 10 year old kids are starting to sail Optimists in Cape Town, as that is all there is. This is fine, but I will still take them out on the Laser or on a Hobie in a blow, as often as I can, to get wet, get crazy and have a blast in order to keep them in the right frame of mind.


Andrew Troup
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Oct 2, 2012, 6:50 PM

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I think it's natural for some kids to have an appetite for risk, although it seems less evident than it once was.
Other kids have the opposite response: they're paralysed by an aversion to risk.

For adults, regardless of what sort of kids they sprang from, I think what's important is not an "appetite" for risk, but a "proportionate response" to risk.

I can't speak for the other instances in an earlier post, but Peter Blake certainly didn't have an appetite for risk. In that respect, he was a quintessential grown-up.

What he did have was an appetite for adventure, no question of that.
But this was a wonderful and yet uncommon instance of his propensity to remain a child.
(Humour, and his ability to relate to small children were others)

Above all, it seemed he had a finely developed ability to either evaluate or intuit the degree of risk.

And importantly, he consistently showed the energy, commitment and (an old fashioned concept:) 'character' ... to rise to the required level to address the risk, WHILE STILL PURSUING THE ACTIVITY which incurred that risk, if sufficiently worthwhile. What he wouldn't do was wear himself out, and sabotage the autonomy of others, by apply a 90% effort to a 10% risk.

Much of his life seems to have involved confronting a succession of tests of his own character ... tests which he made a habit of passing with flying colours. He didn't set up artificial tests for others, but he did something much more valuable.


His attitude to risk was in striking contrast to the modern attitude which seems to me to be something along these lines:

1) identify whether it exists
2) if it does: That's all you need to know.
Don't bother trying to establish the likelihood of an adverse outcome,
NOR to evaluate the consequences of such an outcome.
Finally, do NOT look for a way of mitigating the risk while still pursuing the activity

The simple-minded response to risk, preferred in recent times, seems to be this:

If it's risky, don't do it.
If someone else was going to do it, stop them.
If they still want to do it, forbid them.
If they get it wrong, castigate them,
... and/or sue those who neglected to forbid them.


Mike Quilter tells a great story about his two-handed race with PB around Australia in a wing-masted tri. Radical for the time, and something new to both of them.

Going around Cape Leeuwin (Australia's answer to Cape Horn) Mike "saw this huge black front roaring up behind, so I yanked the string" (tied to Blake's big toe - their way of summoning help when things got to be a handful). "Blakey stuck his head out the hatch and I said "Here comes the front." He said, "Yep, that's it", closed the hatch and went back to bed, leaving me to it.

"He knew when to do that though", he goes on. "I remember, on Lion, the first night it blew. We were going down the Atlantic and the wind built to 30 knots. Lion was quite a handful in that stuff. I was the watch captain but I'd never sailed a maxi in that sort of breeze before (in fact he had, many times, but not in a "sole charge" role, under a full racing press of sail).
It was pretty hairy so I decided that I had better get Blakey on deck. I went down below and woke him, saying "It's pretty willing outside." He said, "Oh, good", rolled over and went back to sleep."

..... "If he had come up and taken over, I would never have assumed the responsibility that went with my job on board. Everything worked out fine and I passed his little test"

It certainly wasn't because Blake was a malingerer who preferred a warm bunk to the icy mantle of responsibility.
Faced with the choice between an easy option and a right option, Blake was never in any doubt.

But even though he had an uncanny knack for setting the right tests for the right people (and in the most low-key way imaginable), each time he did it he was taking a calculated risk.
And, in the process, helping other people to be grownups, too.

A problem, perhaps THE problem, with contemporary culture, is that there seems to be a diminishing supply of grownups.


GeneRankin
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Oct 2, 2012, 6:54 PM

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In Reply To
From Skip Novak:
Zach Berkowitz’s interview with Scott Oslter hit the nail on the head. You can say the same phenomenon exists in the Volvo Ocean Race. Not many Americans compete, in spite of the American stopovers as a feature since Volvo took over the event in the early 90’s.

In the Whitbread era there was only a handful of American crew involved. It was perceived as a crackpot game by the mainstream sailors of those years. I used to ask myself, while I was searching for American sponsorship in the 80’s, albeit prematurely for many reasons, where is the sense of adventure? There was none. {snip}


Not everybody is risk-averse.

I got fired-up by Geoffrey Williams' shot at the SHTA in 1968, since he had as little offshore experience as I had (which is to say: none). They had (after his win) banned outside assistance (he used a polar plot, weather info and a UK-based computer to do the analysis and give him a daily course to steer).

I worked in a lab at the University of Wisconsin then, and had taken basic meteorology from Vernor Suomi who'd invented the weather satellite. As it broadcast images to anyone who wanted them, it would not have been outside assistance - though it would take a fair amount of experience to interpret the images downloaded from the satellite.

I thought this'd be a natural to draw sponsorship for the '72 SHTA, and Schlitz's slogan at the time was "You Only Go Around Once". They dithered ... and then muffed it. This had two consequences: I quit drinking Schlitz, and I hitched my way around the '71 SORC to learn about this offshore stuff. 10,000 miles later, I am still learning.

Not everybody is risk-averse.


The Publisher
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Oct 3, 2012, 5:13 PM

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A DIFFERENT ERA - HOW IT USED TO BE
By Paul Newell, Sailmaker, Isle of Wight
When I was growing up we had almost free range on the sea. My father (a boat builder and long shoreman) put the limitations down by saying "Stay in sight. If you can't see me then I can't see you. And only sail the distance you can comfortably row back from and be back before it's dark" (note: the penalties were tough and rigorously enforced.........no boating for a week)

With that advice we learnt to row and learnt to row well.

This gave us a decent range to play in, in almost all weather conditions. Gale force and upwards off shore winds were always noted and we stayed inshore but gale force and upwards onshore were always looked forward to. If we could get the boats out through the surf then play we did. All day.

As a result big seas and heavy winds don't frighten me but it taught me huge respect for the power of the elements and I never take the sea for granted. This has stood me in good stead over the years in both racing and cruising. Big boats and small.

But none of this "play" experience was under any form of instruction. We learnt how to be self sufficient and always got ourselves back home under our own steam and on time.

As a result we all learnt how to swim, sail, row, fish, paddle, dive, not get sun burnt, drive with an outboard, paint, varnish, race, surf and, above all, have fun. The mates I learnt to do all this with are still mates today, some fifty years later. This also means we have lots of memories and lots of tricks to teach our kids and their mates too.

This nannying of kids today is not good. I'm not suggesting that they go feral but does everything they do have to so regimented and "by the book" so that they all get a piece of paper to say that they can do it? It means that they can do it "by the book" but probably without the "play" knowledge would not be able to get themselves out of trouble when they get past their comfort zone. And I suspect their comfort zone is not much past a force three.

Plowing along with a spinnaker up, in far too much wind, waiting for the inevitable nose-dive/broach/capsize was always one of the best things and looked on to by the old folk (parents etc.) with amusement. They, in the safe knowledge that we knew how to fix it when it broke.

I feel this is all lost on the young of today with too many people trying to get all the kids up to the same standard at the expense of natural talent. Let the reins off a bit and see what happens. I'm sure that natural talent will come to the surface without the system coming to pieces.




The Publisher
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Oct 8, 2012, 9:18 AM

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From John Yeigh:
In addition to Paul Newell comments n how those of us currently among the older generation "all learnt how to swim, sail, row, fish, paddle, dive, not get sun burnt, drive with an outboard, paint, varnish, race, surf", I would like to add a few of my own.

Is the current generation of young sailors learning to drill, duct tape, screw, bolt, sand, whip/sew, windsurf (badly), scrub bottoms, splice, swedge, saw, duct tape, water ski (badly), use a chart, tie knots, if things failed - tie lots of knots, mix epoxy, lash, and duct tape?

My kids are proficient at perhaps half the list, but they are true experts with a roll of duct tape.


The Publisher
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Oct 14, 2012, 3:32 PM

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While it's risky to deal in generalities, it's safe to say that being a kid today is a lot different than it used to be. When it comes to sailing, the debate follows whether today's young people have sufficient freedom that will help to lead toward a lifetime of sailing.

Jahn Tihansky, who is now Director of the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team at the United States Naval Academy, recalls his teen sailing in the 1970s, and how valuable those years were to his connection to the sport.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
I grew up sailing at the Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa, FL, and although I did some pram sailing in the beginning (it took a while for me to figure out mine was not an Opti), I had the good fortune to get picked up off the dock as crew aboard a MORC sized keelboat when I was about 12 years old.

First I sailed with them for beer can racing and soon for weekend and overnight races too. The boat wasn't particularly competitive but the owner and his wife, as well as his other adult crew, welcomed me aboard as part of their sailing family and fostered my learning every position on the boat. They even let me clean the bottom!

Before long, I was trusted to deliver the boat across the bay to St. Pete which I usually did double handed along with similar aged friends on Friday nights after school. We did some crazy stuff on those deliveries. Rigging trapezes, flying two kites at once, swinging from the spin halyard and worse (or better, depending on your perspective). For better or for worse, my parents didn't sail so they had little clue of my shenanigans. The boat's owners were my weekend keepers and far more permissive than my parents likely would have been.

Somewhere in there, my family acquired a Sunfish which provided more adventure, although my buddies had Lasers. With money saved up from mowing lawns and cleaning bottoms, I picked up a beater Laser too. None of us weighed over 120 lbs. Another friend had a 470 which was very cool, but with no others around to race against, it was for joy rides only.

While we did do some Laser regattas (mostly against adults) the majority of our races were aboard the keelboats as crew with our adult 'peers' in events similar to today's club PHRF races. Little did I realize how awkward it must have been for them to have us tagging along in the sailing social scene of the time. But they put up with us and I count many of those same 'adult' sailors as close friends today.

Pretty much all that are still alive from that time are still sailing in some form or another. And I am too. I am no Olympian but consider myself a pretty versatile and well-rounded sailor, and reasonably competitive in a wide variety of boats from an A Cat to a TP52 to a lead mine Swan 44. I can jibe a symmetric kite end-for-end as well as dip pole and rig an asymmetric for inside or out. I can also navigate without a GPS, anchor in a tight harbor, splice a piece of 3-strand and start a cranky diesel. Where did I get the foundation for these skills? From the myriad of adult mentors who were willing to give me a chance.

I give thanks daily for the environment I grew up in and the cast of characters within it which provided me such opportunity and experience!

If we want to prolong the interest of today's young sailors in the game, the current mould has to be broken and the kids turned loose! And every big boat owner with a modicum of passion for the sport should open their arms and welcome them aboard. Then teach them the ropes!

Don't get me wrong... I still see junior programs as a critical part of the process. It's just time we recognize that they should not be the only part. And parents need to recognize the damage they can cause with their smothering attention and excesses in boats and equipment. The sport is about independence, self-sufficiency and creativity. It is also about building lasting friendships and learning to accomplish things alone and with help. Who would argue that these virtues aren't desired in a kid's development?

Thankfully I've seen some initiatives being taken and a few programs have taken root around the country. I applaud those involved at making the change. But I'm afraid it will require wholesale change in our sailing culture to truly close the current gap.

Let's get on it!!




The Publisher
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Oct 16, 2012, 10:25 AM

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From Alan Veenstra:
Thank you Jahn Tihansky, for reminding us about what makes sailing so compelling and timeless. Your story, while common at one time, is largely missing in today's 'risk-adverse' America.

From the moment our ancestors crawled out of the oceans, we humans have drawn back. While some say that this is because the salinity of our spinal column matches that of sea water, I think our attraction to open water is just much more about our human appetite for independence and adventure and personal challenge. Indeed, the entire history of mankind is immortalized in our statuary, of heroes who asked just two questions: "What lies beyond?" and; "How far can I push myself?"

It is no coincidence that there are no statues immortalizing those who dared-not, or honoring the tort lawyers who sucked the salinity out of our lives.


From Shawn Pillars:
Amen for Jahn Tihansky reminding today's teenagers that there is more to sailing than an endless diet of Club 420 windward-leewards. Before I graduated from high school, I had raced Windsurfers, Hobie 16s, an assortment of one design dinghies and keelboats. I knew which way to wrap a winch and could do foredeck on dip pole gybes, a tack-change, and was proficient at splicing. Plenty of adventures during those years. I knew people from all corners of the sport, and these people helped to get me involved in the sport. When I completed college, I never missed a beat. That was 25 years ago and seemed like yesterday.




saintlopiz
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Jan 28, 2020, 1:26 PM

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This article is really fantastic and thanks for sharing the valuable post.
Henry Stickman
Wormateio





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