The sailing community and culture have seen dramatic changes over the last few decades. These changes largely have been dominated by advances in the technology of equipment. We have seen sails change from dacron to carbon to solid wings. We have seen the rudders and boards move from steel to fiberglass to carbon with large varieties of lifting characteristics.
However, the performance of the sailor has been slow to catch up with the demands of these technological advances.
The next attribute to change in our culture is the sailor. The new sailing athlete will align his or her own life priorities to achieve the athletic performance that the top level of our sport now requires.
The pro surfing community is going through a very similar change. Unlike sailing, surfing has had the same equipment and same “stoke” as they did 100’s of years ago. But what has changed is the depth of competition and the height of the waves. Now surfers are attempting to not only tow-in to 60-80 ft waves but paddle in!
Recently, one of the top fitness movement professionals Kelly Starrett from Mobility Wod interviewed Professional Bigwave Surfer Nic Vaughan about what changes he is making to be able to take on these massive waves. Check out the interview here.
When I watched this interview I couldn’t help but see parallels within my own journey as well as what we are hoping achieve with our athletes at Sailing Performance Training. For Nic Vaughan, to be a successful pro big wave surfer it requires a squared-away approach to his profession. He must eat right, get the proper amount of sleep each night, and achieve the ideal level of fitness and mobility before and after each session. Add on traveling in a plane for 12 hours and then needing to return quickly to a state of readiness to perform, we are looking at a different level of professionalism.
Nic Vaughan, who is a model for the next generation professional surfer, rejects the old school surfer stereotype of “party hard, surf hard”. Nic is a professional athlete, which allows him to surf more, bigger, and better than the rest of his competition.
We in the sailing community must look at our athletes in the very same light. Can we afford to stay in the “party hard, sail hard” style of training and competition, or does our sport now demand more of ourselves?
The most extreme area of our sport currently lie in the foiling classes. And in-terms of athletes, the America’s Cup is attracting a new type of sailor. With seemingly unlimited resources these athletes are able to train, fuel, recover, fuel and train again each day with continual gains. It reminds me of the common saying “Eat, Sleep, Sail, Repeat” except now we include fitness as part of this daily routine. Like Nic Vaughan, they train this way because their job requires it.
Earlier this year Sailing World published an article The Modern America’s Cup Sailor, which illustrated the requirements of an America’s Cup bowman. These athletes are 6’+ tall, weigh 195 lbs, burn over 800 calories/hour, have a max deadlift of over 400 lbs, max bench press of 350 lbs, and can perform a 100 lbs weighted pullup. Not only do they have a high absolute strength, they also have an enormous engine. In the article they describe the ideal America’s Cup athlete as one that has the aerobic capacity of cyclist Chris Froome and the anaerobic capacity of sprinter Usain Bolt.
To meet these standards in fitness each sailor must first have an incredibly professional approach to their training. A “party hard, sail hard” type sailor that meets these standards is few and far between. That’s why America’s Cup teams are now taking athletes from other disciplines. One example is Ky Hurst, now sailing for Team Oracle.
He left a very successful career as an Olympic Open Water Swimmer and Ironman athlete to sail for the America’s Cup.
He was recruited because of his incredibly high aerobic capacity. Swimmers have an unprecedented ability to take in, transport, and utilize oxygen (measured through V02max testing) during long duration, lower intensity physical efforts. Building this aerobic base as a young athlete allows you to dig deeper and harder into the shorter more intense anaerobic activities (without oxygen).
Sailing involves brief exertions of high intensity physical activity, such as deploying the gennaker, grinding the main, dropping the boards. These activities if trained in the gym are considered anaerobic, and will require long rest periods to achieve full recovery before repeating again at a consistent effort. However, while racing on the water, these activities must be performed consistently for 15+ minutes. Athletes like Hurst are able to stay in an more aerobic state despite the higher intensity activity, and as result can produce a higher power output for longer periods of time.
So what is it going to take to become a modern sailing athlete? And are our current sailors ready to take a professional approach to achieve the level of performance needed in our new culture?
At Sailing Performance Training we create an individualized fitness program that helps you align your priorities and lifestyle to your sailing goals. We develop a strength program that will allow you achieve the level of absolute strength and speed needed for your specific sailing class and position. We also test and train both your aerobic and anaerobic capacity so you can perform optimally in the time domains your type of sailing requires. With the proper training program we can develop the professional approach needed to succeed in our new culture of competition.
If you have questions regarding your current performance and training, or would you like to join the Sailing Performance Team of athletes, contact Mike Kuschner here and we can start to build your future as a professional athlete.