PASSION sows the seeds for inspiration in any kind of endeavor. For me, my passion is sailing. That feeling of the wind propelling me and my boat through the water—nothing can beat that. Sailing is more than just a sport to me.
In a recent competition, the Fish & Co. Regatta, I didn’t clinch the champion spot, but a 16th placing out of 70 competitors. It wasn’t a bad performance considering I had climbed up eight spots from my previous all-time-best at the 24th spot two months ago.
It was a milestone in my sailing journey that is now two and half years old—a journey that has made me realize I’ve got a competitive streak. That feeling is strongest at the start of each race. Imagine a row of flapping sails all lined up, cheek by jowl, at the starting point, like in a marathon. The rush of energy, the pulsing of the nerves, the way the muscles begin to tense up.
Just seconds before that critical blast of the horn, my mind is working at top speed: Should I tack right or just zip straight on with the crowd? Should I go above the line and ride an oncoming current, or just go below and steer clear of it? Amid all this mental whirring, my watch beeps, signaling I’m 11 seconds to the start of the race. All about me, there’s a mad surge of boats—first, the windsurfers, then the bytes, which is my category. Once the windsurfers set off, you begin to hear, after a four-minute lag, the sailors on the bytes screaming: “Go down! Go Down!” Meaning: You folks out front, get your boat out of my face!
The whole business of just starting a race requires so much skill and a calm temperament. There’s plenty of mental training not to get riled up with the windsurfers ahead who block your way. The only time I get to master it is in an actual regatta, with the full armada of 70 or more competitors. I think I’m good at it, but only after having learned many times that once you goof up at the start, you can forget about a Top 20 finish.
Still, even in a losing situation like this, you make the best of it. You still keep a positive frame of mind, and just finish the race the best you can. “It’s OK,” I’d tell myself. “Maybe you’d outperform your last race.” And true enough, it happened once. I had a bad start, but I came in 18th, bettering the 21st spot in my previous finish.
One of the joys of sailing is that I don’t just put on the competitor’s hat, I also volunteer as a coach for almost two years now, helping sailing enthusiasts in the Get Kids Afloat (GKA) program, which incidentally isn’t just for kids, but adults as well. My youngest student is six, and the oldest, forty-something. The little ones call me “Gor Gor,” or elder brother; the rest call me “Coach” or “Teacher.” It is a big deal to be called all that.
Their safety is in my hands. So when we work on the capsize drills, how to balance, how to tack, how to gauge the winds, I see myself more than just a teacher of sailing, but someone who can help them conquer their fears. It does get scary out there—you in a boat with the vast sea all around you. But you’re not alone. You never are. Your friends are there, even though they may be your competitors.
Put all of this together—helping others, conquering fears, working with the elements, the wind and the water—sailing far surpasses all the academic pursuits and intellectual competition in school. So if you asked me what’s my greatest achievement, it’s got to be sailing.
Nathaniel Soo, Secondary Three
For more essays by Nathaniel, visit Nathaniel Writes
This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2013 exam, Question #4:
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Why does it mean so much to you?