Why is America so disinterested in racing?


Sep 11, 2015
Merit 22- Oregon lakes
It appears to me that the sport of sailing has experienced a slowdown based on some self inflicted images of the sport which were promoted in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. people I talk to are generally enthusiastic about hearing of sailing adventures and most voice the opinion that it looks like a wonderful and enjoyable sport, but they also seem to think it's a rich mans sport that requires years and years of intense training to even get out on the water for the first time. the image of the rich sailing playboy that was previously sold to the public has taken root well enough that many people feel it's to far above their financial means and personal capabilities for them to ever enjoy for themselves.
Sep 15, 2016
Catalina 22 Minnesota
There's some great ideas here. I must admit I do agree with @RussC the idea that its a "rich mans" sort mentality among the general population. Movies and TV don't help much in that racing features sailing machines that are far beyond the reach of 90% of the world population. However for those of us that do race we know it does not have to be so expensive. I make far less than the average wage in the US and cannot afford the $$ electronic tacticians devices out there (though I would love to have them). So I prioritize where $$ is spent on the boat. Sails, sheet handling, and comfort for the type of crew I have become the priority along with the way in which I use the boat. My boat races about 60% of the time so I need the other 40% for it still to be comfortable for cruising which helps keep the family interested.

As for the technology side of things I agree with @Scott T-Bird in that outdoor activities are increasing not decreasing. Perhaps what we need is a club to promote racing / sailing more in the way the old Hobie fleets did back in the day. There was room for all in that you could be the serious racer wanting to take it all, or the family looking to learn and do well.

Perhaps though @shemandr has it best "Why is sailboat racing so popular in France, or New Zealand?" it is certainly an interesting question and one I hope sparks conversations among sailors for a long time. Sailors who race (even if they race poorly) make better sailors overall. They understand sail control, safety, and the unique characteristics of their boats better than most. So there is certainly incentive for racing it may be just a matter of getting people interested again in slowing down a bit to race "snails with sails" and have a great time out on the water.

personally I would love to start up a little trailer group that would meet up on a saturday somewhere to join in an a club race hosted by someone else or have our own race with a very relaxed set of rules.
Oct 26, 2008
Catalina 320 Barnegat, NJ
I have a few more thoughts related to sailboat racing :cool:. I think that in the past, or with the older generations, people seemed to enjoy the structure and tradition of sailboat racing. We can see that in the comments within this forum. People in general were used to relying on structured formats and rigid rules. That isn't the case anymore. When I relate it to skiing, I can see the progression much more clearly. Traditional ski racing (born long after sailing competitions) had / has rigid rules and structure. But along came the freestyle movement, which was essentially created by ex-ski racers. It evolved in so many ways and arenas. Then snow-boarding essentially caused an explosion in creativity. And this wasn't just a free-for-all either. The nature of competition evolved right along with it. Traditional ski racing evolved into the "pro format" of side-by-side racing, competition evolved into all manner of aerials, skier-cross, half-pipes, extreme skiing competitions and surely there is more to come. So the variety and numbers of competitive snow sports has exploded right along with all of the creativity. How did this happen? Basically because creativity over-came "rules". The traditional formats are still "king" i.e. World Cup Ski Racing, but the enthusiasm across all venues has never been higher and is still expanding. Snow sports have had a way of expanding the world of competition for new participants rather than only expanding possibilities only for the elites of the sport. Look at the advent of snowboarding and all of the related events that the Olympics opened up to. We had middle-class teenagers coming from little bump hills near urban areas arriving at the Olympics, winning medals, and gaining national attention! It really was an innovative phenomena.

Contrast that to sailing ... the tradition and rules of sailboat racing, combined with the expense and the rigidity of the formats has simply lost appeal. The only place we see much creativity, is in formats and boats that are so far out of reach to the average sailor that it is simply stifling. It seems that you would have to be Larry Ellison or Jeff Bezos to be able to participate in the extreme avenues of sailing. The rest of us are confined to the same old traditional formats (yawn).

We did see some really great creative gains in sailing. Think about the explosion of Hobie Cats, and the racing-off-the-beach scene that was so exciting for a while. WIndsurfing certainly had it's moment. Kite sailing has the same appeal as windsurfing but I just don't see a competitive nature to these activities. They seem to have turned into a dead end.

Snow sports, by contrast, seem to be readily available to even the lowest income levels. For some reason the creative nature of competition in so many snow sports activities has risen and now seems to be exploding with interest. The numbers of people who start pursing these activities at very young ages and with so much enthusiasm is really astonishing. Sailing really needs to find a similar formula. Somehow, I think, sailing competitions need to break out from the traditional and create excitement for the common people. But it certainly isn't an easy formula to define.
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Likes: kappykaplan
Oct 2, 2008
Pearson/ 530 Strafford, NH
In my world there would be racing involving cruisers. Your boat design would include full bimini, solar panels, wind generator, and a 30 year old engine overloading the boat below the waterline. Points given for cooking a meal during the race.
Jan 5, 2017
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
In my world there would be racing involving cruisers. Your boat design would include full bimini, solar panels, wind generator, and a 30 year old engine overloading the boat below the waterline. Points given for cooking a meal during the race.
You would just love the Swiftsure race. Victoria to Swiftsure Bank and back that is an overnighter for all classes ( mostly cruisers).
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Likes: jssailem
Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Following along with Scott's observations, sailing rules appear to be about establishing places during a race when one boat has the control and you can not damage that boat to gain an advantage. Skiing managed that same level of control by sending the skiers down the course one at a time.

The concepts of chivalry and "gentlemanly sport" bumped up against the ideas of force to gain an advantage, like the difference between USA football and Soccer. Can't you just hear two skippers on their beautifully pristine sail boats, basking in the glow of their highly varnished yachts, "Why Bartlett, my good man, you cannot intrude on my path and bump me off my mark. It is so unsporting. What will they say at the club?"
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Likes: Michael Davis
Jan 1, 2006
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
I don't know if I agree with the "Say Todd old man ..." characterization of yacht racing - now or in the past. While wealthy individuals paid for the racing, it was middle class or working class who worked the boats, built the boats and maintained the boats. That echos my experience on LI in racing that the crews of many boats I sailed on were regular people who had a love for the sport, the maritime atmosphere and for adventure. And in the Great Lakes I think this is also true. I've sailed my share of Lake Erie events and I found the same thing. Many of the boat owners weren't even what we would call rich. The Tartan 10's come to mind. Also, other boats, and I'm sorry I can't remember them, would sail from Toledo or even Detriot, or port East of the Islands to participate in a regatta. Most stayed on their boats. Some better healed campaigns got a motel room or motor home. J-24's which people slept on. So I'm not so sure the yacht club structure excludes participation by the non-elite.
I'm looking for a different explanation of why sailboat racing is a yawn in the American public vs. the French. I'm sure the French have their snotty clubs too. But I think there is a cultural reason. Comfort vs. adventure. A larger country vs. a small more hetergenous one. Why isn't baseball popular in France? Why is soccer? Maybe it's more about what people are used to.
I think sailing can just be sailing. I'm not sure we need to get the whole country involved.


Aug 9, 2011
Beneteau 310 Cheney KS (Wichita)
Perception is reality! And, unfortunately, when Ellison and the "Italian Stallion" are dukeing it out with " the lead bottom money gobblers" or the current variant. that's what John Q public sees and perceives. Billionaires laying it out on the counter. Doesn't matter that every weekend he is laying under his Chevelle at the drag strip and pouring countless dollars into go-fast stuff - he/she views it differently They see them vs. the well financed teams that are racing top fuel every weekend at 50,000 per 3 seconds.