Creating Sailors for Life
Lake Tahoe Sailing Program a unique asset for watersports community
“This is a kid who can be on the water and be completely independent. He is in charge and totally in control. Every move has a benefit and a consequence. He finds his Zen.”
These are the words of Rachel Crus, a proud mother describing the confidence her 11-year-old son Carson has gained over the past few years from the Lake Tahoe Sailing Program at Obexer’s Boat Company in Homewood.
The young Crus is not alone. The wide-ranging program has turned many novice sailors into capable practitioners, who learn through expert instruction how to slice through Tahoe’s choppy waters from behind the tiller of a Pico or Laser sailboat.
A unique partnership of the Tahoe City Public Utility District, the Tahoe Community Sailing Foundation, Obexer’s and The Tahoe Yacht Club, the program caters to both children and adults, starting at the beginner level and advancing up to competitive racing.
Eventually, many of the sailors will race in the Tahoe Yacht Club’s Monday Night Laser Series, or join crews on the larger boats that compete in the beer can races on Wednesday nights. Several sailors who came up through the program raced last summer in the National Laser Championships on Tahoe’s North Shore.
In addition to sailing skills, the program teaches water and boating safety, paddleboarding and kayaking, as well as navigation with a compass. Groups even hike to the top of Homewood ski area to study wind patterns, says Pete Brewster, program coordinator for Tahoe Community Sailing Foundation.
“There is a wide range of opportunities. We don’t really limit based on age groups,” Brewster says. “It’s all levels sailing together.”
A couple of young sailors learn the craft through the Lake Tahoe Sailing Program, photo courtesy TCPUD
Sailing is not an inexpensive sport, mostly because of the cost of the sailboat itself. But as Bryce Griffith, director of the Tahoe Community Sailing Foundation, notes, support from the foundation and its partners helps keep the cost low enough for people to afford.
“Many are working families and would never have the opportunity to do this without this program,” says Griffith.
Another benefit of the program is its association with the Tahoe Yacht Club, which brings young sailors together with the more experienced “old salts.”
“It puts Carson in touch with other people who love sailing, and age doesn’t matter,” says Rachel Crus, adding that her son will get off the boat after a Monday race and go straight to the most experienced sailors, some 50 years older than him, and start shooting the bull about sailing.
Crus adds that the sailing program helps her son learn adult-like responsibilities, which for Carson meant not only learning how to read the winds, but how to put up the mast and rig a Laser by himself.
“One of the great things about sailing is that it teaches resilience and responsibility for your own actions,” says Griffith.
Children learn to sail on Lake Tahoe, photo courtesy TCPUD
Passing the Torch
Once sailors advance to the racing level, they can volunteer their time in the Junior Instructor Program.
“They jump in boats with the younger kids who need help,” says Brewster. “It’s more of a peer-to-peer connection. Ninety percent of our instructors have gone through the junior racing program, then become certified to become instructors.”
Karen Roske, whose children Ingrid and Max went through the program and are now instructors, says the experience taught her kids lifelong lessons that extend beyond sailing.
“It’s been a lesson in how to deal with different kind of people in the teaching environment,” she says. “They have always enjoyed sailing, but I like that they are developing skills that they can use in life.”
Ingrid Roske, who returns from college in Boston each summer to work as a sailing instructor, says the program was a fundamental part of her summers growing up in Tahoe.
“I can’t imagine my childhood without it. The program has really gifted me with a deep love of sailing and The Lake, and has been the foundation of a great community of people,” she says.
Knowledge is passed on to younger generations through the Junior Instruction Program, photo courtesy TCPUD
Future of the Program
Brewster has been with the Tahoe Community Sailing Foundation since 2013, when he came to Tahoe after teaching sailing on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. He lauds the cooperative arrangement that makes the Lake Tahoe Sailing Program work.
The Tahoe City Public Utility District handles the finances and helps keep everything running smoothly, while the other partners provide support for coaching and fundraising to keep the costs down. Obexer’s provides the venue, and West Shore Canvas helps outfit the boats with sails.
This year, the program is set to expand its offerings by partnering with Achieve Tahoe, which will provide the opportunity for people with disabilities to feel the freedom of flying across the water.
While the program is a hit among its participants, Brewster hopes the future will be even brighter.
“We are working out of a storage container. The goal is to find a permanent home on the water that we can provide sheltered classrooms and storage space for boats—a base of operations to hold functions and events, coach and teach out of,” he says. Brewster adds that the program is also trying to obtain funding to purchase several larger boats that can be taken out in windier conditions and used to teach fixed-keel handling skills.
Denise Springsteel is fairly new to the position of Tahoe City Public Utility District recreation superintendent, but she quickly fell in love with the sailing program. “It’s this nugget of great programing. It’s deep and very unique. The more I get involved the more I realize it is amazing that we can offer it.”
Sailing programs are held throughout the summer. Go to tcpud.org to register.
Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and longtime Tahoe City resident who wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail. He used to race Lasers several years ago, but in the interest of not drowning, he now spends his summers hiking and biking.