Okay, it’s been about a year since I took my very first sailing lesson, so I wanted to take time to reflect on my evolving relationship with sailing and to make a plea for more women—especially women of color—to try sailing.
REPRESENTATION IN SAILING
For starters, I had wrongly assumed that there would be plenty (or at least several? a few? hello?) folks of color who love sailing in the U.S., but judging from popular Youtube channels and blogs by folks who sail, you wouldn’t necessarily know it (though they’re out there if you do some sleuthing).
Check out this funny video, “Do The White Thing: Sailing,” which illuminates this disparity of representation and experience, featuring three lovely people of color going out for a sail.
Don’t get me wrong. I love white people (and those who sail too) — my husband especially! And we both love to follow various Youtube channels, podcasts, and blogs by folks as they adventure around the world by sailboat. These folks are usually super generous about sharing their knowledge and tips, and some are also funny as hell.
And while I continue to feel inspired by them, as a woman of color (I’m Korean American), I’m also admittedly wondering where are my peeps? Where can I see more representations of women—especially women of color—at the helm, whether they’re potential newbies like myself or, conversely, extremely experienced at sailing?
This reminds me of when, during that weekend of my first sailing lesson, we’d met a sailing instructor — a white, British guy who loves canning his version of kimchi on his boat. He’s super friendly, very politically conservative, a staunch vegan, and rescuer of dogs (I know, people are so complex!). He enthusiastically described various boat builders and when he mentioned a Japanese one, however, he waved his hand towards me with the you-know-what-I’m-talking-about-because-you’re-Asian gesture.
I blinked back. 🙄😣
Not only did I not know what he was talking about, but I’d come to discover over the course of the next several months that, well, sailing is not quite a nexus of racial diversity (yet) and that subtle gestures and comments would remind me of that.
OVERCOMING FEARS AND BARRIERS TO SAILING
As someone who didn’t come to sailing during childhood nor did I live near a large body of water, it’s easy for me to feel a bit out of place and self-conscious as I try to remember the different parts of our boat (main halyard or mainsheet?), how to tie certain knots (uh, bowline), or how to trim our sails.
In terms of sailing chops, I definitely have a ways to go. Huge motivators to learn more about sailing is not only being able to confidently take the helm or explore places I’ve been dreaming of visiting for years, but it’s also the thought of my six-year-old niece.
If there’s anything I wish for her, it’s an unshakable trust in her abilities, to feel confident about trying new things, and never letting anyone dictate—especially based on her gender or race—what she can/cannot do.
In order to wish that for her, I need to—as they say—walk the walk.
SAILING OFFERS A RARE KIND OF EXPERIENCE
Sailing, however, does not come naturally for me. It involves deep fear and insecurities. Some days, my propensity to imagine worst case scenarios grips me before our boat leaves the dock.
That said, my husband, Michael, recently said something that resonates and reminds me that I am getting out there and learning every time we take our boat out for a sail.
He said that sailing is akin to walking (and this is especially true for our boat, an Island Packet 35, known for its great design and cruising sturdiness, and less so for speed, which is very okay by us).
When I asked him what he meant, he said that sailing, like walking, allow us to experience the immensity of the distance that we’re traveling:
While we can drive 500 miles in a day, that’s far faster than what we’re evolutionary equipped to travel in that time, but when it comes to experiencing and really understanding distance and its immensity, sailing allows you to develop a relationship and have the time to experience everything around you and truly appreciate what a mile is. If you a sail or walk a mile, you understand what that mile means much more.
Sailing also becomes a way of bringing myself closer to unfettered physicality—with nature, the water, our bodies, and the body of the boat carrying us. Sailing requires continual encounters with all of our senses: the smell of the air, the direction of the wind based on how it feels against your skin, sound of the hull moving through the water, and appearance of the sails, clouds, and waves. And all the while, your location and relationship to the world is ever-changing, and you are adapting to it all by paying close attention.
And this brings me to a favorite adage, paraphrased by Grace Hopper (computer scientist and ‘First Lady of Software’):
YAAAS! Are you ready to learn more about sailing, or know of a young girl or awesome woman who’s wanting to try?
We’ve done the legwork and gathered a slew of resources in this freebie about kickass women in sailing and where you can start learning that’ll surely inspire you.
So let’s ‘rock the boat’ (sorry, but love me a bad pun) by challenging those old-school perceptions and learning how to sail! 😂Hope to see you out on the water soon!