Punahou Sets Sail

Newest Co-ed Sport on Right Tack

Department: Athletics

By Jeff Meister

As spring brings the sounds of feet sprinting on the track and balls cracking against baseball bats on campus, a much newer spring sport is gaining momentum offshore in the waters around Waikiki and Magic Island.

Sailing is the newest sport at Punahou, joining the school and the ILH in 2003. What began as casual conversations between parents and then-Punahou Athletic Director Tom Holden led to serious discussions with Guy Fleming and Scott Melander, the sailing directors of the Waikiki and Hawai'i Yacht Clubs, respectively. The trio presented a proposal that the ILH accepted, making it the only high-school league in the United States to offer sailing as a championship sport.

In the program's first year, about 100 competitors represented nine schools, Punahou among them. Punahou won the ILH championship that year, and has won it every year since.

Today, 14 schools participate in the co-ed sport and the league has added a second varsity division to its already strong varsity and JV divisions.

Punahou's success in the sport doesn't stop with the ILH. Head Coach Tom Pochereva is proud to note that Punahou sailors have gone on to be members of teams at universities like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, USC and UC-Irvine, to name only a few.

"Sailing teaches the kids an awful lot," says Pochereva, stressing the discipline and focus involved. "You have to have 100 percent focus on what the wind is doing, what the water is doing, what your competition is doing," he says, explaining that the wind can suddenly shift direction. "The kids learn a tremendous amount of skills and discipline. When you're out there, you're in your vessel so you're your own commander.

You make all your decisions on how that boat performs, where it goes, when it goes, how you tack it," Pochereva says. "The kids tend to be very bright students."

In the waters around Magic Island most late afternoons, two-person sailboat teams practice racing and tipping over and they generally have a great time while working hard. The competitors are a close-knit group, supportive of each other while remaining competitive. "Everyone knows each other," says Tahnee Allman '08, a four-time team member. "We're all really competitive during the race, but afterwards we're all still friends."

The season begins with tryouts in mid-February. "Our tryouts are tough. Because of our compressed season, you need to be pretty fit," says Pochereva, adding that 21 athletes tried out for eight varsity and eight JV spots on the team this season. "We test their skills, run them through races and then rank them," he says. "We rotate them through and everyone gets a look."

With tryouts behind them, Pochereva and his assistant, Jessica Eisold, immediately begin practices for the 12 regattas held in the spring. A regatta consists of three to five races that begin at 4 p.m. and continue until dark. Varsity I races are held in the open ocean and usually involve 17 to 20 boats. Varsity II races, in which Punahou does not compete, are held in the calmer waters of the Ala Moana basin and contain fewer boats, as each school is permitted just one boat. JV races are also held inside the basin with 20 to 25 boats.

Sailing is one of the few sports to have mixed-gender crews. Two athletes are on each boat - the skipper and a crewmember. The skipper's role is to steer the boat. "The skipper needs to have good skills and experience," says Pochereva. The crewmember's job, meanwhile, is to work with the skipper and to communicate race and wind conditions. Working together is vital to the boat's success, he says.

Different strategies go into choosing who sails together. "We select our combinations based on the conditions," says Pochereva. "The wind dictates a lot of what we do and we try to get good match-ups."

Pochereva advises students who want to get involved in the sailing to begin with Introduction to Sailing, a class offered every summer through Punahou Summer School. He also recommends joining one of the yacht club programs.

Three-time team member Kathleen '10 has been sailing since she was 7, first at the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base, then the Kane'ohe Yacht Club before joining the Punahou team as a freshman.

"Sailing has helped me realize that Mother Nature is always bigger and greater than you. You should never underestimate the possibilities of nature," says Kathleen. She said these lessons apply to everyday life. "If a wind shift gets thrown at you, you can't keep sailing in the same direction. You've got to change your direction and work with what you got. If you think of that metaphorically, it's pretty cool."

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