Our Sport Is Stupid
Over the weekend I caught on the tube a program on this years Bells Beach surfing competition, part of surfing pro world tour. At the end of it, I knew who the best competition surfers in the World were, I watched the heats unfold, saw the manouvers, understood the scoring system and saw the sort of training they put in. Basically, if I had known nothing about surfing prior to watching, I would have a solid appreciation for it afterward. Straight after was one of the rolex events at Portofino. If I knew nothing about sailing – I still wouldn’t, what I would have learnt was there were some blokes there with some old boats, Portofino is a nice place with a long affiliation with the sea and apparently they did some racing. I say apparently, because they didn’t show any. Lame!!
It made our sport look stupid. Then I thought, its not fair to blame the sport for a TV producers perspective, but then I started thinking about nearly every sailing program I had watched and compared it to the surfing package. Every program focuses on the biggest, the most expensive, the location and/or claimed the sailors competing were the best.
Then I got to thinking, who are the best sailors in our sport? Ask a bunch of yachties and the argument would go for days – America’s Cup, no Olympics, no this class…… Look at the surfing model. Regional competitions, qualifications series then the best are on the World Tour, no ambiguity, no doubt. Everyone knows who the best is now and who is the best ever. I doubt you would get anyone to agree to that with sailing.
Of course our sport is quite technical, equipment plays a major part in the result outcome and unfortunately sailors cannot meet on a level playing field, much like motor racing. And like us motor racing has the same problems. Who is the best driver, F1, Nascar, IRL, Touring cars….. yet they have one thing up on our sport, they have massive audiences and fan support. At least they are smart enough to host their racing in a place people can see it and keep it formats that are interesting, so they learn about it and become passionate about it.
Not sailing, no, no, no. We make our sport as inaccessible as possible to anyone who might have the slightest interest in it. You know every World Championship I have been to bar one (and even that one took us 20 minutes past a perfectly sailable location) has required over an hour to sail out to the course. In the past we would sail one big race and then do it again the next day and so on. Now, we sail multiple big races in a day, miles from support should anything go wrong.
There are several consequences of how we conduct our racing nowadays. We are spending ridiculous hours on the water, which means you cant race at your peak, because subconsciously your body conserves energy when your mind knows you are going to be on the water 10 hours a day, day after day for weeks at a time. Its expensive. Multiple races a long way from the launch spot mean if you want to win, you have to have a support boat and driver out there with a full set of spares and it means chance could decide the result. Look at the 505 Worlds this year, (by the way Holty if you are reading this, this rant is not directed at you your event or St Francis, it is aimed at the sport as whole) if Martin and Nelson had broken their mast in race one instead of race two, they would have two DNF’s on that two race day and would have lost the Worlds, even though clearly they were the best boat there. Also, its not fun. Spending all day every day on a boat can wear thin pretty quick. The vast majority of competitors at any major meet have no chance of winning and so are competing for the ancillary benefits. But if you haven’t got time for the fun stuff, why go?
But most importantly of all, very few people want to head miles out and sit on a boat all day and watch boats sail around if they are to be stuck out there all day, especially kids and newbie’s. So we aren’t dragging people into the sport.
Of course, most people will just blow this off as me just having a sook. Fair enough, but remember this, I love sailing, I have been doing it my whole life, the only reason I write at all is to encourage more youngsters into our sport and yet lately, when I think how I would rather spend my time, going for a sail is near the bottom of the list. I have lost the love and if someone who has known no other life can think that, I suspect I know why numbers in our sport are so consistently diminishing.
So what’s the point of this? I think its time for change! When I tested Luca Devoti’s D1 recently, I noticed that the class rules require the regatta’s to be fun events. I love it! Lets make the sport fun again. Keep it short, keep it close to spectators, bring back handicap racing so everyone can feel like a winner, (think handicap racing is lame – have a look at the Melbourne Cup). Host regatta’s in great locations and make sure people aren’t on the water longer than three hours.
We need to do something, anything, please! Jump in with your comments.