“Priceless to me is the excitement in people’s eyes when they get back to the dock after they've experienced something so unique,” says Hayden Porter, CEO of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS).
He’s referring to the Learn to Sail experience, offered by his yacht squadron, that guides people through their first sailing lesson in the safety of Waitematā Harbour.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said, ‘That’s the best thing I've ever done in my life,’” he says. “They come back and they're like, ‘Wow, that was phenomenal. That was brilliant.’ All while they’re still wet, cold and freezing.”
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Porter’s own first experience of learning to sail was similar to that of many kids growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand – at school. “We basically got popped out in the middle of the harbour in a little place called Banks Peninsula [near Christchurch] and almost just had to figure it out,” says Porter. As he grew, so did his passion for sailing.
That passion is fuelled by the unpredictable and volatile nature of sailing. “[Sailing] is probably one of the only sports where you're 100 per cent powered by whatever Mother Nature's doing on the day,” he says. “One day it'll be cloudy, rainy and freezing, and the next there’ll be beautiful sunshine with hardly any wind. Then there will be different tides, constraints, and different competitors. It’s completely different every single time.”
Now, as the CEO of the RNZYS, Porter (along with his team) is able to share that passion with others, passing on knowledge to those trying out the sport for the first time, or those other Aotearoa kids getting back into it as adults. “It really is accessible to everyone,” he says. “I think our oldest Learn to Sail [course] person was 85. It was the first time they’d been out, but they’d always wanted to do it. It was sort of a bucket list item.”
But age is just a number, even in competitive sailing. "We've got guys in their eighties competitively sailing alongside the young guys on the boat,” says Porter. “It's not age-restricted. [Still] your competitive side comes out. Like any sport, there’s passion needed to win.”
And, importantly, it’s about connecting with nature. “You know, when you're going for a cruise somewhere and you've got dolphins alongside the boat, or you’re seeing orcas and birdlife,” says Porter, “it's just a peaceful way to get from point A to point B.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Mastercard. Mastercard cardholders can Learn to sail with Hayden Porter and the team at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, or sign up to Mastercard Priceless today.