On-the-water action at the CISA Racing Clinic means plenty of feedback from coaches and plenty of racing.
When 17-year-old Daniel Spath of Cartagena, Columbia, began planning his Olympic sailing campaign, he and his parents used the Internet to scan the world for opportunities to train against the top, young Laser sailors. When 15-year-old Charlie Enright and his crew Courtney Hardiman from Rhode Island were planning their 420 sailing schedule, they listened to respected older sailors and coaches to find out where the best sailing was going on. Both Spath and Enright discovered what young sailors have been learning for more than two decades: every April, the California International Sailing Association's (CISA) Racing Clinic in Long Beach, CA, becomes the epicenter of American youth sailing.
In 1978, CISA—a non-profit group founded to benefit youth sailing through travel grants, direct sponsorship, and racing clinics—established its annual clinic. It was CISA's intent to gather the nation's top sailors in order to help young Californians improve their racing skills and broaden their sailing horizons. They saw the clinic as a way to steer youth sailors toward international competition and as a pathway toward future Olympic success. Since 1984, the group has given more than $5 million to sailors and campaigns nationwide.
Young sailors at the CISA Clinic participate in a variety of boats.
Since its inception, the CISA clinic has grown steadily in size and influence and now attracts top young sailors from far beyond the borders of the Golden State. Sailors regularly travel from places like Seattle and St. Petersburg to attend the spring clinic. Their reward is top-flight instruction from a group of gifted coaches as well as a better understanding of where the sport might lead them beyond high school and youth sailing.
Peter Alarie, a former 505 North American Champion, travels from Bristol, RI, each year to coach at the clinic. "It's the best run clinic I've ever been to as a student or instructor," asserts Alarie. "Because CISA does such a great job, they attract so many top sailors that they can screen the student base, which gives them the best and the brightest—the kids who really want to learn."
Like all good racing symposiums, the CISA Clinic works on the broad spectrum of racing skills from boathandling to strategy to attitude.
The CISA board is chaired by Tim Hogan and includes such sailing luminaries as Olympic silver medalist John Shadden and A-Class Catamaran World Champion Pete Melvin. But the heavy lifting in the clinic's organization falls to Marylee Goyan and Peter Wells. Goyan's involvement for the past 22 years has provided the continuity that allows the clinic to improve incrementally year after year. She began working with the clinic while her two sons were active in youth sailing, but after they grew up and moved on, she stayed on board. "I guess I keep doing this each year because I so enjoy working with the young sailors," said Goyan. "I have terrific people helping me and a lot of parents pitch in with housing and dinners, etc. They are the real heroes."
Each year, head instructor Peter Wells assembles a diverse group of hot shots to coach the clinic and uses his influence to bring in sailing celebrities to lead evening lectures and discussions. This year, America's Cup veterans Peter Isler and Paul Cayard, along with Olympic Tornado crew Charlie Ogletree, were the headliners. Another CISA tradition involves assembling the instructors for a round-table discussion that is hosted by the CISA board. This spring the forum addressed the weaknesses of existing junior training classes and identified new boats and classes that might help students learn more effectively. The coaches suggested novel ways to smooth the transition from youth sailing to Olympic-level competition. And CISA asked the coaches for ideas that might improve the clinic.
Racing is what it's all about at the CISA Clinic.
The four-day CISA clinic always culminates with a fun regatta. The racing is informal, but the competitors get into it 100 percent. While the racing is in progress, the coaches weave through the fleet aboard support boats offering pointers and encouragement. And any protests are resolved by an umpire's decision in order to increase time on the water.
This year, Scott Hogan and John Boyd dominated the action in the 420 fleet, winning all but one race. Hogan is a high school senior who will be doing his collegiate sailing at Dartmouth College next fall. After the racing, he approached a coach with notebook in hand and asked for some pointers about International 420s in preparation for his trip to France for the 420 Worlds later this summer. Hogan's drive is typical of the enthusiasm that the young sailors in this clinic display.
As the awards were dispensed and the last cheers went up, some famous faces appeared at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club. Soling gold medalist Robbie Haines sat behind the instructors during the ceremony, cheering on his son Brian. And two-time 470 World Champion Dave Ullman hooked up the trailer for his son Charlie after the awards. Ullman was smiling broadly as he drove out of the lot while Charlie related his victory in the FJ fleet. For four days every April, the CISA clinic is definitely the place to be.