The University of Hawai‘i sailing team will sail into its 50th season by hosting the P.J. Wenner Rainbow Invitational from Jan. 19 to 20 at Ke‘ehi Lagoon.
The program was founded in 1969 by Ted Livingston, who served as head coach and UH Athletics assistant director. In 1997, the women’s program was established.
“It was right at the same time that women’s water polo and track started,” current head coach Andy Johnson said. “It took us four years to get everything going well enough to win the [women’s] national championships [in 2001].”
Three years later, the coed sailing team won the Coed Dinghy Championships in Cascade Locks, Oregon.
A special family
Alumni Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer, who lettered four seasons for the women’s sailing team from 1997-2001, participated in the 2012 summer olympics.
At UH, she earned All-American honors three times and skippered the team to the 2001 women’s national title.
She will be one of the many alumni who will return for the team’s alumni regatta on Jan. 18.
“One of the best things about the sailing program at UH was the true sense of family you got,” Vandemoer said. “Whenever we traveled, we were hosted by people who were once on the team, or who simply loved to support us.”
Vandemoer said that sailing had just become a varsity level sport when she joined in her freshman year. One of her fondest memories was the program itself: competing, cruising, maintenance, instruction and everything.
Current ‘Bows on the team also feel the same way.
“From the day you step on the team you are accepted into something much larger than a team,” senior captain Michael Pacholski said. “Instead, you are inducted into a family that has been steadily growing for fifty years.”
Pacholski, along with Annika Garrett, is responsible for the well-being of the team. He said the most vital thing about sailing in college is “staying stoked and being excited to get out on the water every day.”
Support over the years
Johnson said it has become difficult to recruit sailors to the program.
“For a good amount of time in the early 2000’s to the mid 2000’s, if you could win a race in our practice, you could win the national championships,” he said. “Things have started to change nationally, and its getting a little bit harder.”
Johnson noted that factors such as rising tuition play a role in recruitment. Sailing is also one of the programs that do not offer scholarships, nationwide.
“We try to recruit the best skippers we can, and a lot of times we don’t necessarily have enough crew, so we find good local athletes,” Johnson said. “As long as they like the water and have a sense of adventure and wanna learn, we can make them into a pretty good crew pretty fast.”
Despite the difficulty in recruiting, the program has been successful.
Johnson, who enters his 30th season at the helm of the program, has guided the team to nearly 50 national championship appearances, 35 All-American selections and two olympians.
“You don’t have fans filling bleachers to see you sail,” Pacholski said, “but you have alumni and parents coming out for every event to help us be the best.”