Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Blowin' in the wind

Rachel Grunwell brings you the lowdown on a new challenge.

Zach Buckley sets sail at Kohimarama Yacht Club. Photo / Getty Images
Zach Buckley sets sail at Kohimarama Yacht Club. Photo / Getty Images

Sailing

What is it? A sailing programme for kids aged 9-plus who are water confident and can swim 50m. Their parents learn to sail too as they accompany their kids as volunteers.

What's needed? Wetsuit, hat, sunscreen, life-jacket and you can hire a club yacht for term one.

The experience: The America's Cup sure showcased sailing and got me wondering how Kiwi kids could become future Dean Barkers. Well, I discovered they can learn to sail through Auckland clubs such as the Kohimarama Yacht Club. Some big names sailed here as youngsters, including Olympic gold medal duo Olivia Powrie and Jo Aleh, and even Brad Butterworth.

A club fleet captain, Des Paterson kindly let me and my son Zach, 8, experience their learner sailing programme one Sunday, joining 20 kids and their parents. First, we sat before a whiteboard inside the club where head coach Felicity Ellis asked "who watched the America's Cup?" and all the hands raised up high.

She explained sailing theory came first, though, because "I need to teach you how to sail out and then how to come back again, too - I don't want you to keep sailing until you reach South America".

She then spoke about water safety, how to go upwind or downwind, knot-making, rigging, sailing rules, launching and retrieving and, importantly, what to do when you capsize.

The kids then practise the theory on the yachts while on sand, and then in the afternoon we're all out 500m offshore. There are several groups of four or five kids per coach. Each child takes a turn solo-sailing in their group's one-man Optimist, while their coach (and the rest of their group) watch in a motor-powered inflatable boat. So every kid is learning by either seeing or doing.

I'm on a motor-powered boat with experienced sailor Ella Matulovic, and it's neat to see her group of kids, including Zach, all give sailing a go. She's a pro at guiding them when they get something wrong, and praising their correct steps.

The youngsters each run through tacking. This includes the drill learned earlier in the day: prepare well, push the tiller, punch the tiller out, pivot towards the mast, plant your bum down on the other side of the yacht (after ducking under the boom) and then straighten the rudder, while always looking at the direction the boat is heading.

It's a buzz to experience sailing through the kids' enthusiasm. It's also beautiful out here, we're close to gorgeous Rangitoto Island. Later, the kids play "capsize wars", in which they try to capsize each other's boats, cheekily scrambling over each other's yachts, and trying to overturn them in the deep waters. The masters of each boat then expertly bring their vessel upright again by pulling down on the centre-board. This game is great for water confidence and brilliant practise for when they capsize when they don't expect it down the track.

About 3.30pm, the sailing day is over and the boats are dragged on to shore, washed, and there's a debrief and lolly scramble. Zach asks me later "can we please get a boat?"

How much? For the first term you can hire a club yacht ($120), coaching per term ($195), and half-year club fees ($150). After this, you must buy a yacht (roughly $500-$2000).

Worth it? Top programme. I love that this isn't a place where you drop your kids off. Parents must volunteer a fair bit, so families learn to sail together.

Try it: The next Learn to Sail course starts Feb 2 (Sundays, 10 weeks, 9.45am-3pm). After that it's Learning to Race and then Competitive Racing.

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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