When the U.S. SailGP Team considered what success beyond competition could be, they were inspired to create Foiling First. "Before this season started, we thought about how we could positively impact our sport in America, and we quickly identified two problems," says Jimmy Spithill, CEO and Helm of the US SailGP, on their website. "First, the American talent pool is underdeveloped because there's no pathway for foiling athletes. At the same time, our sport has struggled with diversity from a gender, racial and socioeconomic perspective." The Foiling First youth camps were created to address these challenges.
"Foiling First is designed to use foiling as a catalyst to help incentivize our sport to change," says Matt Knighton, Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications US SailGP. "We're looking at engaging with the sailing community across America as we create a new foiling pathway that teaches the skill to a diverse cross-section of athletes, helps create pathways to sailing, and educates youth and coaches on diversity and inclusion. When we're looking at where to invest our knowledge in how to foil, we want to do it in a way that helps create a better sport."
Part of the initiative is holding two-day Foiling First: Learn to Foil Camps focused on on-water coaching with the U.S. SailGP Team athletes using the Skeeta and Nikki Foiling Platforms sold by Melges Performance Sailboats.
"The Skeeta and Nikki foiling platforms are perfect for learning how to foil because they're very forgiving and can be sailed in displacement mode, the same as a dinghy," says Matt. "This removes a crucial barrier – finding your balance – from the process, and we see kids foil on their first day." The highlight of the program for Matt is the genuine joy on the kids' faces when they say, "I can do this."
Off the water, kids and local community members have the chance to meet the athletes and participate in a workshop run by the team’s #RacefortheFuture partner RISE. They learn about diversity, identity, and inclusion within sports through a curriculum developed in part through the organization’s work with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and others.
The response to the camps has been overwhelmingly positive:
- 58 kids have learned to foil
- 73 youth and coaches have been educated on inclusion
- more than 270 people have been exposed to the conversation of diversity and inclusion in sailing
"Seeing how excited our professional athletes are to pass on their love of foiling has also been a huge highlight for me," says Matt. "It's incredible to see the cross-section of youth who participate and to see organizations step up to help remove barriers to sailing."
Central to Foiling First is a partnership program that focuses on long-term goals. The hope is for organizations to buy foiling boats and educate their coaches on the discipline. From there, with more availability of foiling programs in more communities, there will be additional opportunities for a diverse field of athletes.
The plan is to eventually have several tiers available as athletes progress in their skills and advance up to the U.S. SailGP Team consideration level. However, for the moment, the team is focusing on growing their existing partnerships and bringing more joy to the youth as part of the Foiling First Partnership Program and Learn to Foil Camps.
Mustang Survival is proud to support the U.S. SailGP team and Foiling First. To learn more about the program and how to get involved, visit FoilingFirst.com