Efforts to broaden sailing coursed through San Francisco summit


The unofficial theme of the 12th International Sailing Summit, which took place Aug. 18-20 in San Francisco, was how to draw more women, youth and diversity to the sport.

A diverse lineup of speakers — including two female sailors, an African American keynote speaker and a young kiteboard champion — helped give about 80 attendees from around the world new ideas for pulling more people into the sport, Ronstan president and former Sail America director Scot West told Trade Only Today.

Ronstan CEO Alistair Murray told Trade Only that he liked seeing a bit of diversity at a conference for an industry that is jokingly referred to as “male, pale and stale.”

Johnny Heineken, billed at the Sail America-produced event as the No. 1-ranked kiteboarder, the 2013 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year and “twenty-something,” said a large part of attracting new sailors was getting people onto the water in any way possible, whether on a sailboat, a kiteboard or an open dinghy, and the rest will take care of itself, West said.

“A big part of engaging youth was doing it in a less-structured way — less racing, and way more of kids having fun on boats, and getting families involved, and engaging with women,” Murray said. “Traditionally there have been a lot more males than females in sailing, but right now there is more interest in sailing from women than men in terms of Google searches and inquiries to sailing schools.”

“The unplanned theme of the conference was women,” West added, “youth, women and diversity.”

“We hope people left with pearls of wisdom and will go home and think differently about how they are going to be relevant,” Murray said.

“We just want to make sailing accessible,” West said. “There was some debate about how easy or hard it is to go sailing. We had some sailing schools there who thought it was easy, and others saying, ‘It’s not as easy as you think.’ ”

Among the speakers at the conference were Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (“Tailwinds and Headwinds in the Future of Boating”), and Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, the parent company of Trade Only (“Growing the Sport of Sailing — Lessons Learned”).

The summit, held in conjunction with the America’s Cup World Series, featured the Red Bull youth teams racing outside the conference hall windows, Murray said — a “good distraction.”

“The summit is all about getting the leaders together to share ideas about boating participation, and more than anything it’s about getting people together to network, get to know each other and endorse the market,” Murray said. “There were a lot of real legends of the sport involved, so it was a great event.”

— Reagan Haynes