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Saturday, April 13, 2024
Sailing is more than a sport for NOTL sailing club volunteer Rod Gardner
Rod Gardner is the director of the Learn to Sail program at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club. SUPPLIED

Lucy Hopkins
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Sailing has a long and storied history, but a volunteer at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club is bringing the sport to a new generation.

Rod Gardner spends his time as the director of the Learn to Sail program at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club, a not-for-profit organization.

The club runs a three-week-long program in July and August, teaching local campers – as young as nine – how to sail.

“The most rewarding part is watching young kids have fun over the summer and learn to sail and the outcome of just having a good, fun summer,” Gardner said, adding that campers show growth through their time in the program.

“I just see a maturity in terms of learning to handle and operate a sailboat confidently, in some tricky conditions.”

Gardner sees sailing as not just a sport, but a learning experience as it gives youth an educational and behavioural experience.

“Sailing is Mother Nature and water and wind, so you’re facing the elements and using the physics of sailboats. These are engineering and science kind of skills,” he said.

“Also on the social side, you have to be able to work with your crew on the boat effectively,” he added. “So those communication skills are required, following the leader, following instruction, those are key parts, and then the big parts like learning water safety.”

Gardner hopes that these learning experiences will help young people in the program grow careers and hobbies they are truly interested in for the future.

“If kids and adults fall in love with the sport and buy a boat, that’s a great outcome – if they decide to join the Coast Guard, or the navy, or get into merchant sailing, or naval architecture or design, those are all where we’ve seen a lot of our kids over the last 50 years end up,” he said.

Gardner is passionate about spreading the love for sailing, as he has been on sailboats since the age of two.

“I just fell in love with the sport the first time I touched the sailboat,” he said.

Now, he’s at a stage where he has the time to channel his passion into youth programs.

“That’s really a passion of mine, to grow the sport, get more younger families involved in sailing, and show them the pathway,” he said.

Sailing itself has a very broad audience, Gardner said, as it is an affordable sport – if you do it properly.

“It’s got a perception of being a very expensive sport, but I own a boat called a Shark: they were designed and built in Niagara-on-the-Lake and they’re very affordable to buy,” Gardner said.

“You need to put some work into them, they’re all old, but you can buy one of those for a couple thousand dollars, fix it up over a few years and have a working sailboat.”

Sailing is not only inclusive financially but is available to any age, he added.

This year, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club is offering a program for adults as well as youth.

“We’ve never done this before. But we think there’s a lot of opportunity in the community, for folks who have their days off or want to take some time off work to do something different,” Gardner said.

“It’s been a passion of mine my whole life, so the more the merrier.”

If you are interested in sponsoring this nonprofit organization or joining one of its summer programs, check out the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club website at niagaraonthelakesailingclub.com.

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