WMYSA is a league in its third year that combines nine West Michigan sailing clubs; including the Spring Lake Yacht Club, which hosted the regatta.
Kids from Grand Rapids, Macatawa Bay, Spring Lake and Muskegon yacht clubs participated in this regatta, the first of the league’s season.
Marina Mckeough, 14, said the winds — which continously shifted during the races — made sailing tricky. Although some parts were slow, she said it was a good race.
“It’s really fun to be on the water, and a lot of my friends sail and they’re the people I always hang out with,” Mckeough said.
Director of the WMYSA, Marie Mell, said that for a time, sailing was losing popularity because staying involved in the sport often required a private coach and aspirations for higher regattas such as the Junior Olympics.
“Kids would drop out before they’d get to that level because, if you didn’t have the funds to do it, then it wouldn’t be available to you,” Mell said. “This league is a way of getting kids into the next level of regatta without having a private coach, and to have a league set up for them to have a practice.”
Mell said she is proud of the collaborative effort the clubs have made to keep youth involved in the sport.
“The future of sailing is hinged upon what we do with the kids right now,” she said. “And to have more and more participation with kids is going to keep our sport alive. Just like everything, I think we need to spend time with kids and have opportunities available for them.”
Elise Betten, 11, has been sailing for seven years.
“I like it because you get to learn the lake, and it’s really fun,” the Spring Lake youngster said.
Betten has helped crew boats, and raced in the butterfly fleet for the first time this year.
“It’s a challenge because there’s other really good kids, but they’re helping, so I know if I do something wrong they can just tell me,” she said. “… At the Spring Lake Yacht Club, you just get to know everyone, and then they’re like your family, so they help you.”
Abby Reeg of Spring Lake said the regatta isn’t always about competition.
“Racing is a great way to teach kids how to sail because they have to get from point A to point B, and learn how to do it,” said Reeg, whose son sailed in the race. “For some kids, it’s not just competitive — it’s just learning how to do it.”
Scott Corder, who coordinates the races, said the sport teaches valuable skills. His 12-year-old twins have been sailing since they were 6 years old.
“They’ll disappear for four hours in that boat, and I won’t worry about where they’re going,” Corder said. “They are by themselves navigating all over a lake that’s a mile-and-a-half across anyway you look at it. That kind of self-reliance and autonomy and confidence, it’s hard to give your kid that in any other kind of setting.”
Corder said he hopes to make lifelong sailors through the WMYSA.
“It’s not about just building an olympic kid who gives it up when he’s 22,” Corder said. “It’s about training kids that may love the sport for life.”