High School Sailing: A Unique Nationwide Sport that Thrives in Olympia

Olympia yatch club
Thurston County high school sailors start a race right off Port Plaza. Photo courtesy: Niki Alden

Submitted by Niki Alden

When people think of high school sports they often think of football, basketball, or track and field. But for a few dozen Thurston County high schoolers, sport season means skipping the cleats and donning a wetsuit as they prepare for a unique high school sport: sailboat racing.

With 587 teams, over 6,000 student athletes, and four national championships the world of High School Sailing is a one-of-a-kind competitive and thrilling team experience. Sailors regularly have the chance to travel throughout the PNW and beyond to compete in the most beautiful sports arenas out there, all as part of a team. With constantly changing weather, tides, and venues high school sailors face challenges far beyond anything seen on the soccer pitch!

With Olympia’s rich maritime history, it should be no surprise to hear of the thriving youth sailing community here. Right in the heart of downtown Olympia, high school athletes from five Thurston County schools gather to practice, launching from the Olympia Yacht Club. If you’ve ever walked along Percival Landing or Port Plaza and seen a fleet of small two-sailed boats weaving together, you’ve seen sailors from Olympia, Capital, North Thurston, Tumwater, and Black Hills high schools practicing. This group of sailors, often heard laughing and calling out on the water, is ranked first in the Northwest district, and eleventh nationally!

The team is part of a community program that focuses on making the sport of sailing accessible to youth in the greater Olympia area. Most of the high schoolers on the team are first generation sailors, meaning they learned to sail through this community program and didn’t come from families that owned boats. “There’s this perception that sailing is a rich man’s sport,” says Director and Head Coach Sarah Hanavan, “but that’s not true here. Our team dues are comparable to other team sports like soccer or basketball, and we have many scholarships available. Our goal is to make sailing accessible to everyone.”

Hanavan was excited to share with me one of their cost-reduction programs for teens. “We want to see more teens get on the water,” says Hanavan. To encourage new high schoolers to join, they are offering discounts on summer lessons for students from these schools! With the discount codes below, high schoolers can take a two-week class for only $50 and learn the skills needed to join this unique high school sport. Questions can be directed to oycjuniorsailing@gmail.com.

Interested teens can learn more about the high school race team by visiting the team website.

Registration for summer classes is also found on their website.

  • Capital High Schoolers use code: CAPITAL
  • North Thurston High Schoolers use code: NTHURSTON
  • Tumwater High Schoolers use code: TUMWATER
  • Black Hills High Schoolers use code: BLACKHILLS
  • Olympia High Schoolers use code: OLYMPIA
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