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Arizona Sailing Foundation makes waves with boating lessons in Phoenix

The local nonprofit organization teaches people of all ages how to be sailors.
The Arizona Sailing Foundation teaches youth and adult classes, including a capsize drill students learn on the first of the two-day course.
The Arizona Sailing Foundation teaches youth and adult classes, including a capsize drill students learn on the first of the two-day course. Sydney Witte/Cronkite News
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Tempe, renowned for its popular Mill Avenue and Arizona State University, has a lesser-known yet thriving spot making waves – Tempe Town Lake. This expansive water haven isn’t just a picturesque backdrop: It’s a hub for various water recreation pursuits such as outrigger canoeing, kayaking and sailing.

Audubon Arizona reports that the state’s waterways, including Tempe Town Lake, contribute $13.5 billion to Arizona’s economy, drawing 1.5 million residents annually who indulge in the diverse aquatic offerings.

Arizona’s water recreation activities run deep with families across the state.

Lucas Cox, a 10-year-old beginner boater, learned to sail through the Arizona Sailing Foundation’s Kids’ Introduction to Sailing course on Tempe Town Lake – the same place where his dad, Bryan, learned to sail 20 years ago. With the skills Lucas learned through the program, Bryan Cox is excited to see his son let down the sails of their own boat and take control.

“It gives them the confidence to say ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Bryan Cox says, noting children are in the boat by themselves on the first day of the sailing course.



The Arizona Sailing Foundation has helped people of all ages learn to sail in the desert since 1958, mostly on Tempe Town Lake and Lake Pleasant. On select weekends throughout the year, the organization teaches youth and adult classes for those yearning to become mariners. The students learn key skills such as control and patience, and participate in a capsize drill on the first day of the two-day course.

To participate in sailing lessons, all students must pass a swimming test and meet weight requirements for the sailboats.

Otto Shill, a Level 1 sailing instructor for the Arizona Sailing Foundation, has taught people to sail for years. He is passionate about keeping sailing alive and calls it the “basics” of travel.

“This is back to the basics of how people traveled for thousands of years. … Make a boat, put a sail on it and see where it pushes you,” he says. “This is real life. They learn what it’s like to feel to manipulate the boat and how to coordinate the sail with the rudder.”

On the first day of the course, students begin by learning through classroom theory sessions followed by on-land demonstrations before four hours on the water – adult boaters with a coach – putting what they’ve learned into action.

Students in the adult sailing course, like Chad Mayer, who couldn’t get enough of sailing after his wife signed them up for the class with the foundation, says he enjoys the adrenaline rush of sailing and learning the basics of the boat, like the mainsail versus the jib sail.

“It was nice to feel the resistance of the water against the tiller,” Mayer says. “Every once in a while a little breeze would come through, and you’d feel the boat start to move and that was kind of a rush.”

On the second day of both the adult and youth courses, the focus is on-the-water training and sailing to hone their skills and learn to correct errors.

Lucas wanted to learn to sail because his family has a boat, and they go sailing across the Valley. He can’t wait to hit the waters with his new skills so “I don’t get stranded in the middle of the lake.”

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
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