Totally agree with that. If you look at any Sail Mag. it appears that 'starter' boats are 40ft. and costing a minor fortune.
The same plunge in youth participation happened in skiing. A full 'outfit' would cost well over $2000 for top quality stuff. And then, SnoBoarding arrived, was 1/5 -1/10th the price for the equipment and the dying 'snowsports' industry made a dramatic comeback ... until the price of a lift ticket met the resurgent enthusiasm and the snowsports industry is going through another decline simply because its too damn expensive for 'young-uns' to afford.
So who makes a reasonably priced modest entry level sailboat? ... virtually no one, simply because the ROI for the manufacturers is too slim. Even a 14ft. rowing dink far exceeds the cost of my first reasonably equipped '30 footer' of 40 years ago.
personally, I think that's a huge part of it. $5000 for a small dinghy is a big hurtle for a lot of people. and, like everyone says, cruising boats, like houses, have gotten bigger and bigger with a matching growth in price. the 50s was the time of the fiberglass boat, which took sailing out of the realm of the rich and affluent and put it in the realm of the average guy. now, sailing is back in the hands of the well to do, at least on the surface. I think that's a big part but I think there are other elements to the issue.
technology is another big one. we have become a technology society. everything is technology, I-phones, I-pads, lap tops, video games....all of it indoors and inactive. sailboats aren't about modern technology. they are sophisticated ancient technology. it's not as glamorous and flash like the latest version of Assassin's creed. that's a big thing. if you want to attract a younger crowd, you need to have computer chips involved. which leads to the next point.
the new generations aren't outdoorsy, physical people. everything they have always done has been passive entertainment. TV, video games, the internet, facebook, tweeter; all of these things are inactive entertainment. the young people of today just don't DO things. it's all passive and inactive. sailing is an outdoor, unplugged, active thing. that's a huge culture difference. as kids, we all went outside to play we were active all the time.
another thing is the entertainment industry. when I was a kid ( i'm only 40 ), there were plenty of swashbuckler movies on TV. Erol Flynn and other dashing heroes fighting with swords and cannons on the sailing ships of the golden age of sail. they just don't make many movies about that, now, except Pirates of the Caribbean. So, in a decade, we have three movies featuring the excitement of the sailor's world. before that, I can only think of Dead Calm, as far as movies featuring sailboats. before that? it was maybe the 70s since any movies featuring sailing were made and got wide public attention. so, while sailing was on our minds as children, and we were pirate captains fighting with swords made of sticks and ships that were the pick nick table in the back yard, it's not on the minds of the modern generation.
but I don't think all is lost. it's like choppers and cruising motorcycles. they became the toys of rich yuppies and those of us who were real bikers, and a part of the blue collar world, could barely afford parts and bikes. plus, the yuppies wanted rolling antiques, and HD has been giving them that. the kids want fast, exciting, and affordable. 20,000 dollars for a relatively slow, high maintenance isn't really attractive to today's kids. but...
there is a growing underground chopper movement with younger generations. it's not big but it's growing. they are building cutting edge, old school choppers and they are doing it with any bikes they can get, not just high dollar HDs. before that, it looked as if the "biker' culture would die with us 'old' folks, leaving only race bikes on the roads. but the tide is changing.
if you go on youtube, you will see that a growing number of younger people are sick of the materialistic rat race. they are going simpler and less materialistic. building relatively tiny houses out of adobe or what construction materials they can get from construction site dumpsters ( incredible waste in the construction field ). they are also trying out the live aboard lifestyle. a cruising sailboat is like a tiny house that floats. you have no choice but simplify your life.
like with the young trend in the biker world, these kids are going 'old school' and they are doing it on older, smaller boats. like with the motorcycle world, the trend is still small but it's growing. I agree with one poster. as costs go up, free locomotion is going to get more attractive. that's one thing about sailing that's pretty cool. I can put my boat on the water, sail for an entire day, and it costs me nothing more than the price of gas to drive to the water. that's a big bang for your buck.
anyhow, I don't think all is lost, just yet. I think there is a new kind of young people that will take up the reins when we kick off.