By Nick Muir
I’ll preface this by saying, I’m not a football fan. I’m sure it’s a wonderful sport, and I enjoy seeing the Phoenix and the All Whites succeed, but it’s not my cup of tea when it comes to a sport to follow. So this post is not about football, it’s about sailing, which was the first sport I ever really took an interest in. It’s about how I became a fan.
You see, I had the good fortune to attend Milford Primary School, one of the wealthiest primary schools in New Zealand (though my family definitely were not), it’s built on the shores of Lake Pupuke, which used to supply the fresh water to the city, and is now a relatively safe and popular boating and fishing spot (I say relatively safe, because a remarkable number of people manage to get themselves killed in it, but mostly because they do things like jump off cliffs, or go diving amongst the very long weed). In a moment of remarkable foresight, the school decided that since Auckland is the “City of Sails”, and they were in exactly the right place to do it, they’d build a Waterwise centre, stocked with Optimist yachts (a small but fairly stable, single-handed dinghy) and kayaks sponsored by local businesses, and other schools from across the city could use it too. So for the last two years of primary school, during the summer months, every second week we’d get to spend the entire morning learning to sail or kayak. It was bliss!
Now normally we’d just puddle about on a fairly small course, or if the weather was bad we’d work on knots and safety drills etc, but this one time the buoy was set a good distance out, and the teacher chose the more confident sailors to have a race. And now the important bit, because as something of a geek, with negligible physical skills, I was somewhat surprised to be chosen to take part. For the first time I realized that I was actually doing pretty well at a sport. Even more, I realized I might actually have a chance at winning something for once. I suddenly understood that here was a sport where I didn’t need to expend all my focus trying to co-ordinate my flailing limbs, I could concentrate on winning, I could use strategy, I could think!
Annoyingly the teacher lost track of who was where so we didn’t actually get to have a “winner” as such. But I do remember that I was, for the first time in my life, seriously competitive at sport. I knew which of my classmates sailed regularly outside of school, and I was definitely keeping up with them.
As I write this it also occurs to me that I have a fiercely independent streak (I hate relying on others for damn near anything and always have) and this was also really the first properly solo sport I’d been exposed to and in some ways my sporting life from there on focused much more on individual sports. Not that I ever outgrew my basic lack of co-ordination, but I did judo for some years in high school and university, and of course I continued to sail and kayak off and on.
For me, sailing also represented freedom, a lovely way to get away from everyone else, and just do my own thing without being yelled at by stroppy classmates. If occasionally I was required to drink a bit of lake water, or dodge some angry swans, that was a small price to pay.
Lastly, sailing dodges the primary complaint that most non-sports fans have about sport, namely that it’s not pointless. It’s a mode of transport, it has utility. You’re actually getting somewhere, often for the fun of it, but even still, it has real practical value. For those of us who view the world through almost purely practical eyes, and just don’t get the appeal of sweating and hurting for the “fun” of it, sailing represents a neat alternative.
At any rate, for the rest of my life, sailing has been my thing. If someone asks me what sport I do, I tell them I sail. I keep an eye on the Round-the-World racing, and the Americas Cup dramas. The former has the more powerful attraction I have to say. I love to see Kiwi sailors doing well on the world stage and I get frustrated at how rarely we convert world cup success into medals at the Olympics (Go the Kendalls!). And of course, I love the thought of being out there myself.
I didn’t get to sail terribly much after those halcyon school days, it was and still is, a sport for the wealthy. Not just in terms of the money to buy the right gear, but in terms of having parents that can shuttle you and equipment about when you’re young, and being a part of a club so you can race etc. But for a while I managed to afford my own boat, never anything competitive, but always something good enough to get out and about in. I’m sure I’ll get back to it one day. In the meantime, I’ll just content myself with being a fan.
Categories: Off Topic
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.