Passion, Diversity, Environmental Education, & Fun – Sailing Leadership Forum 2016

By Celia Oprinovich, Reach Instructor/Sailing Coach, Indiana Sailing Association, East Chicago, Indiana

US Sailing’s 2nd Sailing Leadership Forum was held in San Diego, California. Holding true to its theme of Connect, Discover, Grow, many opportunities were present throughout the three day event to do just that.  The daily schedule included early morning exercises on the beach, followed by coffee at US Sailing’s Buzz Bar complete with topic speakers. Inspirational keynote speakers primed the attendees for wonderful breakout workshops that filled the late morning and afternoon sessions. While my interests were in the Youth Development and Participation/Growth sessions, equally appealing workshops were in the areas of Management/Operations/Governance, Regattas/Racing, Safety, Race Management, and Go Fast/Hands On/ Outdoors. I have to admit – I did veer from my course and took in a great Safety workshop on thunderstorms – a lifelong fascination of mine!

Top 5 Takeaways:

1. The need for environmental education and stewardship has never been greater. Two of the three keynote addresses highlighted the deplorable conditions in areas of our planet’s oceans. Volvo Race sailors Charlie Enright and Mark Towill planted a lasting image in my mind. While circumnavigating the globe in the 2015 Volvo Race, they described how they and other crew members had to devise a plan to remove the massive amount of garbage from their hull of their race vessel. The experience inspired them to collaborate with 11th Hour Racing, their Sustainability Partner, to create 55 South. Through this endeavor, Enright and Towill “are committed to bringing awareness and solutions to the mounting problem of marine debris…to do what we can do to reduce the influx of plastics, waste and litter.” As a Reach educator and sailing coach, I’m thrilled to witness the impact of Module 6 – Marine Debris on students and adults alike. Additional Reach programming has been created to further environmental education and practice. At the Forum, attendees were able, on a daily basis, to practice good stewardship through the use of reusable products. Each attendee received individual hot/cold cups, bamboo utensils, cloth lunch sacks, thereby reducing waste. Change starts with each of us!

2. Be passionate in what you do. The enthusiasm for the sport of sailing, in all its components was palpable. Dr. Sylvia Earle’s keynote address “Sustainable Seas: The Vision and the Reality” was captivating. Through the telling of her life experience she led the audience to share her belief that we have the abilities to explore the oceans and to “craft solutions” to the problems that face us. While her presentation was filled with memorable adages, a favorite of mine was “Celebrate what you’re doing to make a difference.” Again, the link to US Sailing’s Reach curriculum is strong. OurUS Sailing STEM curriculum is superior, how can we not be enthused by its content, and the lives it impacts.

3. We change lives. During a brainstorming activity in a grant writing session, another participant and I exchanged an experience we had encountered in our respective sailing communities, she with a disabled veteran and I with an inner city youth. Creating a mission statement, our short term goal, leapt out at us – our involvement with these individuals and sailing truly changes lives, our own included. As a retired urban educator, I have repeatedly seen how the power of education and experiential learning has positively impact young people. One powerful example of this was a workshop on a program from the South Bronx, in New York City. Rocking the Boat, a program for high schoolers, started fifteen years ago. This program is working and thriving in a highly disadvantaged area. Their boat building program has evolved to also include a student environmental program as well as a student sailing one. Among its incredible achievements is a 100% college acceptance rate of their students.

4. The diverse image of sailing is growing. Ron Tite in his large group presentation entitled “How to Thrive in the Expression Economy” had many incisive points, hilariously presented. Conjuring up the stereotypical sailor, the image of a male wearing khaki trousers, blue button down shirt, and a lemon colored sweater tied around his shoulders appeared on the screen. We are that, and a whole lot more! One of the breakout sessions that I attended addressed retaining junior sailors who were not interested in the ‘racing’ track of their club’s sailing program. The Vineyard Haven Yacht Club extended their sailing program to include an ‘adventure’ track, one with wind and kite surfing and standup boards.  Spike Lobdell, Founder of New England Science and Sailing (NESS), stated in his presentation during the session Building Community Partnerships that NESS’s core values include inclusiveness, experiential learning, personal growth, and stewardship. Lou Sandoval, a rear commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, emphasized how important it is to “speak outside the harbor” citing that “diversity and inclusion are conscious efforts.” Adaptive Sailing, Community Boating Centers, and expanded youth programs are adding to the growth of our sport.

5. Sailors believe in fun. The opportunities to connect with like-minded attendees extended beyond exchanging business cards after great workshops. Each morning started with a sailing fitness session on the beach. Not surprising to me, the free coffee hour at US Sailing’s Buzz Bar was more heavily attended. Do you think Dennis Connor’s or Dave Perry’s presence might have added to that?! The networking lunches had us dispersed around the beautiful grounds of the Hilton Resort. Each of the four nights concluded with a special optional event, be it the “Sail to Rio” cocktail reception, the Awards Dinner, a San Diego Gas-lamp Quarter Pub Crawl or the Wrap Up Cocktail Party. There was also a Demo Time with sponsors and boats at the beach. So many opportunities and great people to meet.



“Achieving success is never automatic.” – Gary Jobson

We can not all travel to every conference in STEM Education and Sailing, however we can share what we learn. Above, and in future posts you will find a report from a Reach Educator who received a a professional development grant to attend a conference in a related fields and share their experience, and top takeaways thanks to the funding and support of 11th Hour Racing.