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Opti camp

Youngsters learn from the best at Opti camps

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The Optimist scene is still one of the main breeding grounds for New Zealand's sailors and over the past month nearly 100 youngsters have been learning off world champions, SailGP sailors and world championship-winning coaches.

Last month 24 young sailors took part in the three-day NZIODA South Island clinic hosted by the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club and this week the Wakatere Boating Club are playing host to 72 Opti sailors from around New Zealand.

The North Island one is traditionally held at Eastern Beaches, with sailors staying over at Willow Park, but uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 saw organisers reluctantly change plans and cancel the live-in aspect of the event. This is often one of the highlights of the week, with many developing life-long friends, but the same high-level coaching and mentoring is still on offer.

New ILCA 7 (Laser) world champion Tom Saunders is among the 12 coaches this week, along with New Zealand SailGP Team member Liv Mackay and Orestes Reyes, who has coached Optimist sailors to world and intercontinental titles.

"I get a lot of enjoyment out of coaching," said Saunders, who is due to coach the New Zealand team at this year's Optimist world championships. "It forces me to think about what I do [as a sailor], and trying to explain that to the kids in a simplified way can be quite challenging.

"I get a lot out of it and a couple of things here and there can go a long way for kids at this level. I also take a lot of satisfaction out of seeing their progression."

As well as the on-water coaching, there are various sessions on things like preparing for a peak event, starting routines, nutrition and fitness.

Both clinics are supported by the OWNZ Trust, who provide Optis for a number of out-of-town sailors and a financial contribution to support the fleet.

Yachting New Zealand youth and event manager Sam Mackay, who also doubles as NZIODA head coach, has been the chief organiser for the event and remembers when he attended the Eastern Beaches camp as an aspiring young sailor 15 years ago. Mackay went on to sail for New Zealand at two Optimist world championships and said the camp was a formative experience in his development.

"I remember having the Olympic sailors at the time coaching it and also having the likes of Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox [who were top Optimist sailors] come in and coach even though they had been out of Opti for a few years. I idolised those people so it was pretty motivating.

"It was also about the friends you make, the stuff you get up to off the water. Those become the friends you make for the rest of your junior and youth sailing career.

"I hope [the sailors this week] make a few mates, take one or two things from every coach and enjoy themselves. It's always intense, with big days and they will be shattered by the end of it but hopefully they learn lots to take back to their clubs and put into practice."