Friday, January 25, 2013

Introducing American Youth Sailing Force Team

Selected by Oracle Team USA to represent San Francisco in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, the seven members of the American Youth Force Sailing Team are still pinching themselves that they’re potentially on the road to an America’s Cup career.

For the first time there’s a path for youth sailors 24 and under to sailing’s pinnacle event and this west coast-based team are all over it with huge amounts of energy and passion.

Team members are Ian Andrewes, 23, David Liebenberg, 21, Michael Menninger, 23, Tommy Pastalka, 22, Matt Pistay, 22, Mikey Radziejowski, 21 and Evan Sjostedt, 19.

How did you get to the American Youth Sailing Force team?

Evan: We saw the press release that announced the Youth America’s Cup. Ian was really excited about doing it and we we came up with an idea to start this team. I was excited about the same goal and thought we could go pretty far with this. We met with Tommy and he joined us pretty early on and a few other local guys - Mikey and David - and it’s grown from there.

You guys didn’t know each other going into this?

Ian: I knew David when we were younger and then Evan and I met sailing skiffs in Seattle. It was calling a lot of people to check out to see who would work out well for the team. We wanted keen, dedicated people to take the next step forward which for us was organizing a team that gathered in San Francisco this past summer. We met in Richmond, sailed a lot and did a lot of teamwork stuff. That was a really strong experience for us and helped us all come together, not just on the water but off the water hanging out to see how we each felt about working as a team together.

What was the intrigue with the America’s Cup?

Ian: I’ve always been into it, even as a kid. It’s the pinnacle of sailing and that’s the case for guys like us. That’s the reason we’re in the position we’re in - because we’re really dedicated to the sport.

Evan: For me, getting up at 3am to watch the America’s Cup in Australia with my Dad - it was one of those things I was really into.

What’s your combined racing experience?

Evan: Our strength is that we have such a broad range of experience between all of us. Most of us started in skiffs - 14s, 18s, Moths and 49ers, and that’s a big part of it because those boats translate pretty well to the cats. At the same time a lot of us are sailing Melges 24s and 32s, doing TP52 stuff, and a bunch of offshore sailing.

Is there any Olympic experience among you?

Ian: Speaking for the group, we‘ve gone in a different direction with our sailing than the Olympic route. For some, that’s the only way that you can take sailing to the next level. Everyone on our team has gone the professional route, as far as getting on bigger boats, team programs etc.

Tommy: That’s how special this opportunity is as far as having an alternate route besides the Olympics. It brings out a lot of the talent that may not otherwise be found in the US.

Why do you think you won the selection series?

Evan: Compared to every other team out there we had the most sailing together on the most relevant boats, like the skiffs and some bigger cats. That was a huge step for our team to have had that time sailing together. We had also spent a lot of time watching as much AC45 video footage as we could. When we hopped on the boat, we knew where the lines ran, we knew where to sit for different positions. We didn’t feel completely lost - that was a big thing.

Ian: When we got the call from Oracle about the selection, they let us know that we had made a presence there and how strong we were as a group, and worked together to accomplish fairly normal tasks.

Had you spent anytime on the AC45 going into the trials?

Ian: No. In the morning we did a bit of a briefing then spent the next few hours getting the boat rigged up and launched. We had two coaches riding with us - Darren Bundock rotating out with a few of the other guys. So it was trial by fire in a way but it wasn’t too windy. They were really good about just letting us figure it out and seeing how we did as a team and how we directed ourselves.

Have special rules been developed for you to race the AC45s?

Evan: It’s not too different to the America’ Cup World Series - we’ll be racing on the same courses and it’ll all be fleet racing. The biggest change is that we’re allowed six people on the boat instead of five - on average we’re a bit lighter than the Cup guys. That has a huge impact on how we handle the boat. It’s still a full-on difficult boat to sail but one person makes a big difference and it makes things faster. The extra set of hands is critical if someone needs some relief and you can rotate out.

What time will you get training on the AC45s?

Ian: We wont have access to the 45 again until the beginning of March. It looks like we’ll be able to rig up the 45 two or three times a month after that and go sailing for a few days. A lot of the time in between will be spent just being at Pier 80, having access to the coaching with Philippe Presti, working on the boats onshore, working out at the gym there.

What kind of budget will you need?

Ian: Currently our total fiscal goal is $125K - that is the minimum but should cover everything. The rules are that we can’t be paid for this as sailors so right now it’s on a Corinthian basis. Most of the money will go to ACRM for entry fees, insurance and damage deposit because we’re essentially chartering the AC45s.

What's your initial reaction to handling the AC45?

Tommy: It’s quite a lot of work! One of the important things is going to be focusing on our fitness, our stamina and strength. We all knew it was going to be hard work sailing the boat and spent a lot of time in the gym to get ready for this trial period but even so, it was pretty exhausting and we have a lot of work to do. But once sailing, it was all pretty smooth and the boat’s set up pretty simply so the main thing for handling the boat will be getting a little heavier, particularly for me, and then improving our strength and stamina to be able to get the boat around the course two or three times a day. Otherwise, it was an exciting experience and the acceleration is incredible. There’s nothing like doing 26 downwind in 10 knots of wind. It was exciting even just leaving the dock and feeling the acceleration!

What assistance are you getting from Oracle?

Ian: As much as we can relative to what can be fit in with their AC72 schedule. But we’ll have access to all the onshore and offshore coaching and technology. The coaching was a big thing for us during the trials. However many hours we would spend on the water we would then almost double that was spent in the meeting room watching the GoPro footage and going over every tack afterwards, what was good, what we need to work on - it was huge to have that time dissecting everything we'd done on the boats. We’ll also have access to the gym and physical training at Pier 80.

A big part of the selection trials - on the morning of the second day - they put us through a really rigorous fitness test. What was cool about it was that it was the same test that they give to their sailors. In just five minutes the test puts you pretty much to the edge of what you can do, it’s insane. It showed you exactly what you would need to do to be on an America’s Cup team. The guys are world-class athletes and so in a sense we were being compared to the best of the best. It made a difference just seeing the hours that the guys put in at the gym even outside of the sailing. The fact that they can work so hard and keep going throughout the day, their stamina is really impressive.

How did you come up with your team name?

Ian: That was the first hurdle - we figured we couldn’t go forward until we had a team name - you need an identity. We ended up writing down a whole bunch of words that we wanted to incorporate into the team and we whittled that down and came up with American Youth Force Sailing Team - we really like the ‘Force’ part. We thought we may change later but it seems to be sticking pretty well. Evan came up with the logo and graphic design, which has turned out really well…there’s talk of team tattoos…

What’s the ruling regarding your ISAF category to participate?

Ian: There are no rules regarding your ISAF category as far as the sailing goes. They just don’t want us being paid for this event, so we can’t get a title sponsor who would pay us. It doesn’t mean we can’t make money in other ways, it just mean we can’t directly get paid to sail. There’s no conflict with other sailing work that we may be doing other than the time commitment to this, which of course is huge…but we’re definitely available otherwise! The point of this is that they’re trying to find the best young sailors, it’s a scouting opportunity for Oracle. It also gives us something past the Youth America’s Cup to be work toward. This isn’t an end game for us.

What’s your association with Red Bull?

Evan: We don’t deal with them at all but we’re stoked - everyone has seen the kind of stuff Red Bull does. The idea that sailing can be held in the same light and they’re working hard to do that is cool. It’s a good sign for sailing that Red Bull wants to get involved, especially in the US and with the direction that the America’s Cup is going with the multi hulls and making it exciting and available to a more mainstream audience. We’ve all got excited about some Red Bull related event at some point, right?

Photo Credit: Erik Simonson
Pic 1 AYSF team members l to r: Evan, Tommy, Ian, David & Mikey
Pic 2 Getting acquainted with the AC45

Thursday, January 24, 2013

GROWING A NEW CLASS ... Exciting times for kiteboard racing

The International Kiteboarding Class Annual General Meeting was held in Rome last weekend, culminating in some exciting updates for the 2013 season. The recently formed American Kiteboarding Association was represented by Robbie Dean (Director of Race Operations, St Francis Yacht Club). While the minutes have not been published, Dean updated SailBlast on some of the key topics.

SB: What was the general theme of the AGM?

ROBBIE DEAN: Refining the class rules so that we can all have a clear understanding of what we’re doing going forward. Certainly with Olympic aspiration on the horizon we want to make sure we’re in line with what the rest of the Olympic classes are doing while focusing on what our greatest assets are which is speed and development and excitement of high end sailing. We’re working a lot right now on format ideas - what we’re going to do in the theater style sailing - a really cool way to highlight an event rather than just a simple medal race, how we’re going to make a 6-7 day event exciting all the way out but also speaking to our roots with a long series where consistency pays.

The AKA proposed a 360 rule that’s a bit more well defined - we’ve done a couple of things with our championship rules to make them more understandable to sailors as well as to non-traditional sailors that come from the kite class, our ratings systems and how we’re going to move forward with our relationship with ISAF - how we’ll lay out our calendar for an international schedule - prize money and points and all those considerations.

One of the other things is that we formed a working party to unroll the Kiteboard Racing Hall of Fame, which we’ll unroll later in 2013 so look for that in the future.

SB: AKA lobbied for a change to the kite limit at events?

ROBBIE DEAN: Yes, before you could have three kites registered for any one event and a fourth safety kite. The idea was that the Olympic classes are required by ISAF or asked by ISAF to sail in a range from 5 to 25 knots but we know that kites can sail up to 35 to 40 knots easily. We say, let’s go sailing in 5 or 6 or up to 35 with the kite class but to do that we’re going to need to have 4 kites. Technically before we were allowed to use four kites but now there’s no requirement for the RC to raise the safety kite flag to allow use of that fourth kite - you can fly any one of your four kites at any time during a regatta and sail anywhere from 5 to 35 knots, so we basically expanded the wind window and released the requirement for the RC to raise that safety flag. It allows us to really highlight the best part of the sport - speed in big breeze and gnarly conditions.

SB: Other equipment news?

ROBBIE DEAN: We’ve had some discussion of how we’re going to limit the fin development but we have not done anything thus far. We’re continuing to allow sailors to develop their equipment within a box rule type situation and we know fin development is going to be the next step in our equipment and we’re letting another year go by where there’s relatively open fin limitations within the box rule. So that’s exciting.

SB: It was rumored that racers may have to register kites per season, not per event?

ROBBIE DEAN: We’ve been discussing registering kites per season but it’s not realistic as it punishes people who sail more so that was a non starter. We are requiring that 4 kites are registered per event and a new submission that was approved along with the AKA’s 4-kite limit was that there must be a kite in every category - small, medium and large, and an extra small now - a 15 m or larger, one between 11-15, and two 11 and smaller so you have a range of kites at an event.

SB: Tell us about the new foil boarding class?

ROBBIE DEAN: I think it’s something that can be popular as well. Right now the kite racing is going down the Olympic pathway and with that there’s going to be some restriction on what sailors are doing so the foilboard class, the snow kiting class and even the potential future for a more formula-type class (over and above the current box rule) where we might offshoot to a fully developmental kite racing class - it’s all in the nacent stage but kiting has so many avenues that we can go and which we’re opening ourselves up to any of the possibilities.

SB: Tell us about the AKA?

ROBBIE DEAN: The American Kiteboarding Association was formalized about six months ago. We’d been remiss in getting something going just because the individual strengths and lobbying within the kite racing community had been sufficient up until now but the world is changing in kiteboarding and our involvement in with ISAF as well as the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) needs to be more formal. We’re setting up to do that.

SB: What big events will we see locally this year?

ROBBIE DEAN: June 3-9 is the US Nationals for the kiteboard class which will be one of the stops on the west coast tour so we’re going to be have the North Americans in Puero Vallarta at the end of May, we’re doing the US Nationals beginning of June at St FYC and the final stop of the West Coast Championships at Squamish in British Columbia at the end of July. We’re calling it the West Coast Tour and it’s going to be endorsed by the Mexican, American and Canadian Kiteboarding Associations.

SB: Why does St FYC continue to be strong supporter of kiteboard racing?

ROBBIE DEAN: St FYC have always supported windsurfing and kite racing and really high performance sailing. The Club is proud to have kiteboarders as well as windsurfers and skiff sailors and everybody as a really integral part of our racing program and our club. We love the young members, we love the athleticism and the speed and performance that these people are participating at - I think it’s just part of the fabric of St FYC really.


PHOTO 1: Robbie Dean at St FYC with Olympic gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe

PHOTO 2: 2012 World Champion Kiteboard Course Racers Johnny & Erika Heinken

PHOTO 3: Johnny Heineken racing to win in Cagliari, Italy, 2012

PHOTO CREDIT (2 & 3): Roberto Foresti