Sailing evolving into a popular pastime for students

Two teenagers from Unite World College Changshu China have triumphed in a sailing championship.

Two teenagers from Unite World College Changshu China have triumphed in a sailing championship.

Feng Tianjun and Zhan Yuan, both 16, won the Student Group of the 2017 UWC Changshu China Cup Kuncheng Lake Regatta, with their schoolmate from Zambia and their teachers. The competition held over two days, on May 20 and 21 in Changshu, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

Fu Bao’an / Ti Gong

Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong Province, is now best-known for its sailing and yachting industry.

As students approach the end of their first academic year, at UWC Changshu China, competing sailing on the lake for the first time offers not only an exhilarating experience but a possible hobby for life.“Sailing is a complicated sport. It’s about the control of wind and its direction, about timing, and more,” said Feng.

“To me, the most important thing in sailing is teamwork. As we both had never sailed before, in this case, techniques are not as important. We’ve learnt to cooperate and follow instructions from the captain,” said teammate Zhan.

Both students have shown a great interest in a sport that requires precision, decision, a high-degree of teamwork and a strategy. The college plans to launch a sailing course next semester as a new water sport under its CAS (creativity, activity, service) program, also known as Zhixing, a collection of extra-curriculum courses dedicated to students’ mental and physical development on campus.

“As a boarding school, we are going to have 562 students enrolled next (academic) year. We have to keep teenagers active and busy,” admitted Robert Clarence, principal of UWC Changshu, China.

Ti Gong

UWC Changshu students, including Feng Tianjun (sixth from left, back row) and Zhan Yuan (seventh from left, back row), pose for a group photo after completing the 2017 UWC Changshu Cup Kuncheng Lake Regatta in late May.  

Across the country, UWC is not alone. More schools have added sailing as an extra-curriculum sport when a city is embraced by plenty of water bodies.China’s Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong Province, is now best-known for its sailing and yachting industry worldwide. The city government initiated a long-term program introducing sailing to its local schools back in 2006, along with a series of supporting plans, campaigns and facilities.Now, over 100 local schools have provided sailing courses with eight city and district-level sailing teams established, according to sports authorities in Qingdao.

In 2016, 107 primary and secondary schools and universities in Qingdao were recognized as “specialist sailing schools,” including 32 as model schools. These schools have established their own sailing teams as well.It’s worth mentioning that the number of trained students in Qingdao has totaled 27,000 so far.“Qingdao has strong strengths in natural resources, infrastructure and professionals in sailing, which makes it possible to promote the sport at school,” explained Ma Hua, dean of CAS Curriculum Program at UWC Changshu, who will be in charge of the college’s sailing course.

Also, there have been more international sailing competitions and camps held in Qingdao in recent years.

Ending on May 4, the four-day Qingdao leg-act of the 2017 Extreme Sailing Series organized over 300 local students, and their parents, to visit the competition bay and sailing equipment, where they had a face-to-face talk with world’s top sailors. Student sailors from over 20 local primary and secondary schools showcased their OP (Optimist) sailing techniques during the event, too.

Since 2010, Qingdao International Optimist Training Camp & Regatta has been held every August to promote the sport further. More than 2,400 youngsters from over 10 countries and regions, such as the United States, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Myanmar and Pakistan have participated in the camps.The less-popular sport in China has gained more public attention in the past decade from both the public and the government.

Many domestic sailing and yacht clubs also offer a range of programs dedicated to raise a new generation of sailing athletes for professional teams at all levels and, of course, to introduce the sport to more youngsters.

Wei Baohe and Liu Zihui / Ti Gong

More than 2,400 youngsters from over 10 countries and regions, have participated in the Qingdao International Optimist Training Camp & Regatta, held every August in Qingdao since 2010.

For example, Shanghai Yacht Club and Resort, founded in 2004, provides youth sailing programs, including camps, regular courses and classes for competitions. The club is based by Dianshan Lake in Qingpu District. Now, it has about 3,000 member families with children. Since its establishment, the club has attracted more than 200,000 youngsters to experience the fun and excitement of sailing.

“We work with both local and international primary schools,” said Jiang Guiyang, marketing manager with Shanghai Yacht Club and Resort.

“We also have summer camps, which attracted more than 300 youngsters last year.”The five-day, five-night camp will continue this year, running from now until August 25.

“Zero experience is required but campers will master how to control an OP sailboat in only one day,” said Jiang, “We organize a series of trainings, workshops and competitions, which parents are invited to watch and cheer for kids.”

The club now has some 20 resident coaches, both domestic and overseas.China is never short of talented sailing athletes who become the apple of many schools’ eye.

“Many domestic and international schools can recruit retired professionals to coach at school, who also make contributions at sailing clubs,” said Ma. “This greatly benefits the students as they are able to experience and access professional sailing courses in clubs.”

Furthermore, according to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) issued by the General Administration of Sports last year, all resources should be integrated to build a network of sports and activities for the youth accessible at school and home as well as in local communities, organizing a collection of youth sports competitions and adding 300 new model sports clubs at national-level, making the number totaling 6,000 nationwide by 2020. A variety of non-profit sport events and training will be provided to involve more youngsters, who are required to master at least one kind of sport skills.

Although strongly backed by the government authority, the promotion of sailing still faces some challenges.“It’s China’s challenge. It’s got to pick up its pollution. The air pollution and water pollution has got to be done and it can be done,” said Clarence, who took England as a successful example to learn from. Rather than inviting overseas experts, Clarence prefers to recruit domestic sailing elites to coach at UWC.“China needs to believe in itself,” stressed Clarence.

In February, Sanya in Hainan Province was announced as the host city for the upcoming 2017 Youth Sailing World Championship in December. It is expected that over 400 young sailors from some 60 countries and regions will gather in Sanya to compete.“

I’d like to see more talented young sailors with high-level skills in China in the future,” said Ma. “I hope sailing can be the sport that helps international students to learn about the modernization and development of China during their studies here as well, not only about our traditional culture.”

To private clubs like Shanghai Yacht Club and Resort, guidance and support from government bodies seem to be important too.“We now work closely with international and local schools. It’d be great if sailing could be promoted as an extra-curriculum sport with supportive funds by the local government just as in cities like Qingdao.”

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