Although sailing may rank among the lesser-known competitive sports for high school athletes, collegiate sailing’s history spans a century and its roots in Olympia run nearly as deep. Thanks to Olympia Community Sailing, local high school athletes, of all levels, have the opportunity each fall to sign up, gear up and hone their racing skills as members of their high school’s sailing team.

high school student sitting in a sail boat during a competetion
Sailing offers opportunities for growth in character, self-reliance and accountability to others.Photo credit: Sarah Hanavan

While many sailing team athletes will be returning, new sailors, no matter their level of experience, or lack of, are encouraged to try out for one of the teams. This fall’s tryouts are taking place August 29 to August 31 with an Information Night scheduled for August 21.

As you might imagine, athletes who possess the admirable qualities of grit, self-reliance and camaraderie through hardship find much success in sailing. Sailing is not for the faint of heart, as these young athletes attempt to become masters of themselves, their ships and the sea, but for those that dedicate themselves the rewards are a boundless as the sea.

Coach Sarah Hanavan’s advice? Give it a season. “I do think it’s important for incoming athletes and families to understand that the scope of learning to sail in the high school program is in line with the end goal of becoming a more able and confident racer,” stresses Sarah, “Success, however, is not dependent on the skills you start with, but rather the time you put in and the attitude and outlook you foster throughout the season.”

High school student stands on a rudder of a capsized boat
It is not whether difficulties will arise in sailing, but when. High School athletes learn many essential skills at weekly practices, including how to right a capsized vessel. Photo credit: Sarah Hanavan

Sailing, she notes, seems to end up being secondary to the experience of being on the team. “Kids change in ways that I don’t think they would have if not for being members of the high school sailing team,” reflects Sarah. “A sense of community takes root for the athletes who invest in and trust the process and confident, balanced adults emerge.”

“I enjoyed high school sailing because it allowed me to get better at the sport I love every day,” shares Sam Bonauto, Olympia High School Sailing team alumni. “Going out on the water rain or shine with my friends and teammates was always fun and allowed me to decompress after a long day of school. Getting to travel to a new place every weekend to go sailing is a unique opportunity. Only in high school sailing can you spend all day on the water, wake up in a school gymnasium and be excited to do it all again. Finally, I think sailing taught me life lessons like persistence, having a growth mindset, and leadership skills. I feel very lucky to have sailed in Olympia, with incredible teammates, and a wonderful coach.”

“High school sailing in our community is unique,” explains Sarah, “in that local high school teams practice together and travel together despite competing against each other during each season’s regattas.”

High School Sailing is also unique in that it is a co-ed sport and offers greater opportunities for equal participation compared to more traditional high school team sports.

High School Sailing team members sailing back towards the dock at sunset
High School Sailing team members are given an opportunity to interact with our local waterways in a meaningful way, inspiring a mindset of stewardship. Photo credit: Sarah Hanavan

More Fun Facts About High School Sailing

  • High School Sailing has two seasons. Fall is shorter, running September to early November, and focuses on training and building experience. Spring is longer, running March through May, and is focused around competition.
  • Racing events are called regattas. Competition unfolds over the course of a day or two as teams work in pairs, taking turns sailing a series of short races, combining points to determine the victor.
  • While competitive movement to events such as nationals, require a full team, athletes from lesser represented schools can sail together in the mixed or open division offered at most regattas.
  • Any sailor who attends high school in Thurston County is eligible to join. Historically, Olympia High School and Capital High School field the largest teams, but Black Hills High School, Tumwater High School, North Thurston High School and Avanti High School are represented as well.

In addition to serving as head coach for each of our Thurston County High School Sailing teams, Sarah also acts as executive director for Olympia Community Sailing. Olympia Community Sailing is a local nonprofit, founded in 2019, driven by a common vision of an inclusive and diverse local sailing community. The high school sailing team program is one way they have brought this vision to life. To register for the upcoming High School Sailing Team Tryouts, August 29-31, visit the Olympia Community Sailing website.  To learn more about the High School Sailing Team Information Night on August 21, or inquire about other programs at Olympia Community Sailing, please email Head Coach and Executive Director, Sarah Hanavan


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