U.S. Sailing hopes Long Beach competition helps improve its Olympic results

Off the coast of Long Beach, where sails could catch wind, a white fleet gathered around orange buoys shaped like tetrahedrons.

A horn sounded. Once. Twice. A few more times. A flag was raised and sailors prepared to make their mark on the waters that will host sailing competitions for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. People have been sailing for eons, but people from across the country who glided across the Pacific waves on Friday for the first day of the Long Beach West Marine US Open Sailing Series call the primitive activity their sport.

Shimmering streams of water followed the various boats operated by sailors of all ages as they left Alamitos Bay Yacht Club and made their way to the courses. To provide training waters for Olympic hopefuls, the series held three regattas off the Florida coast last winter before resuming in San Diego this summer. San Francisco is the last stop after Long Beach.

“If we have 150 to 200 kids in a pool, we leave out two who can make the podium,” said Paul Cayard, executive director of US Olympic Sailing and a 1984 Olympian.

Sailors spent their day on the water taking courses according to how the sun, wind and waves favored them. They are rated on a point system – the lower the score at the end of the day, the better the performance.

ILCAS, traditional sailing boats powered by pulleys, made up the white fleet. Across the street, formula kites with foils reflecting an airplane wing painted the sky with bright colors while athletes raced at high speeds. Windsurfers whizzed past in a red patch. Meanwhile, carriages circled around to give them water or food.

Regardless of what an athlete is sailing, core, leg strength and physics come into play when tracking down dark spots in the water — the wind pockets that propel them forward. US Sailing aims to return to its status as a world leader. No American won a medal in any of the sailing classes in Tokyo last year.

Looking ahead to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, US Sailing joins others in hoping to change that narrative. Participation in the sport has raised members’ awareness of the issues plaguing the ocean. When a sailor’s gear hits seaweed, or worse, plastic, it’s like hitting a concrete wall. Formula kitesurfers could lose a limb on impact at such high speeds. They want to clear the water.

As sailors returned to the water on Saturday, Kilroy, a leading sustainable real estate development company and sponsor of US Sailing, hosted the Sea Change Festival beach cleanup to further their collective efforts to protect the oceans. But US Sailing recognizes that due to accessibility issues, many are unaware that the water needs to be protected.

The series was launched from a yacht club where people in the community park their boats and socialize. Sailing gear costs thousands of dollars and getting out on the water takes time. The seafarers mostly share the same profile.

“It’s a sport for rich white people,” Cayard said. “How do we involve everyone?”

US Sailing launched a community sailing program to bring inner-city kids to the sport. Cayard said they are working on outreach to find youth outside of the typical sailing demographic.

Leo Boucher doesn’t fit the yachting status quo as a multiracial black yachtsman, but he is adept at navigating the waters. The 22-year-old, who is from Annapolis, Maryland and attends St. Mary’s College of Maryland, won the 2022 ILCA North American Championships in Canada earlier this month.

Boucher started sailing at the age of eight when his parents took him to summer camp. In the years that followed, he began racing and has since become a rising star. The Maryland native said he placed in the top three at each of his four rounds on Friday. He loves the sport but is also aware of his homogeneity.

When asked how to increase diversity, Boucher replied, “Access to water, whatever that is.”

Boucher attributed his success to discipline. Much of sailing is mental, “like an ever-evolving chess game,” said Allison Chenard, media and communications coordinator and active sailor for US Sailing.

Sailors must be aware of the wind and the current moving beneath them. They need to stay on their toes, both figuratively and literally, while braving the elements. You have to be responsible.

That sense of danger and independence is what makes crossing the waves so alluring.

“I think I started when I was 8,” Cayard said. “It is adventurous to get out of here. Even if as an 8-year-old kid you untie your boat at the dock, you have to have the confidence to believe that you can get that thing back to the dock.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-16/sailing U.S. Sailing hopes Long Beach competition helps improve its Olympic results

Emma Bowman

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