"I sail because I feel like I'm free and I can do whatever I want. I also like it because it challenges me."
That was just one response from young girls competing at last weekend’s Sir Peter Blake Regatta at Torbay when asked the question, ‘why do I sail?’
There was a wide variety in the feedback received, from being free, challenged and making decisions independently to a love of the sea and nature, the fun and excitement and, of course, “smashing” the boys.
There was a fair bit of the latter happening at all levels last weekend, with Laser Radial sailor Olivia Christie collecting the Sir Peter Blake Memorial Trophy for the outstanding sailor of the regatta, Amelia Angus winning the highly-competitive Optimist open division and Susannah Pyatt and Brianna Reynolds-Smith taking out the 470 class.
But not everyone is motivated by competition and success and there are plenty of different avenues sailors can take.
Yachting New Zealand was asking the question of female competitors at the Sir Peter Blake Regatta as part of a wider project looking into how to attract and then keep more females in the sport of sailing.
Erica Dawson, who has enjoyed good success in sailing as a former Tanner Cup winner and who has since finished in the top 15 at the 49erFX world championships, is heading up the six-month project.
She’s already talked to a host of youngsters, parents and coaches, former high performance sailors and counterparts from other sporting codes such as New Zealand Football who have undertaken similar research and have successful programmes in place. Dawson will also circulate a survey in the New Year which she hopes past and present sailors will answer.
“We really want to know what drives girls to the sport of sailing and what they love about it,” Dawson said. “We also want to know what barriers they face and why many subsequently leave the sport. This will give us a better understanding of how we, and the system, can support them through the path in sailing they would like to take.
“One thing that’s come through strongly is that girls need a really strong group of friends around them they can go through with. The social aspect and keeping the whole of the sailing experience fun is crucial in keeping girls sailing. As parents and coaches, this is an area where we can really help nurture and facilitate.
"While the focus of this project is on females, and their experiences in particular, we believe the strategies that come out of the findings will be relevant for all sailors."
The opportunities for female sailors are opening up all the time on the high performance side, especially with a move to have gender equality at the 2024 Paris Olympics and more female involvement in events like the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It’s a great time to be involved in the sport,” Yachting New Zealand talent development manager Geoff Woolley said. “There are lots more avenues and pathways for girls, whether it’s in the Olympic classes, keelboats, offshore sailing, dinghies, kiteboarding and windsurfing or in the marine industry as a whole.”
One individual who responded to the question, ‘why do I sail?’ already has her sights on competing at the highest level but sailing also means much more to her than that.
“It is so different to every other sport,” she wrote. “The independence from looking after my boat from a young age has helped me grow.”
- Anyone keen to be involved in the women’s sailing initiative or to offer ideas, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org