We see this in a lot of things. mrvideo stated that golf continues to be popular, but in my area, it's a dying sport. And the cost is spiraling up, even on public courses.
I think student debt, wage stagnation, housing costs, lack of storage and access is contributing to the sport fading. It's not a terribly accessible sport. Cost of boat, even used plus fixup costs. Need a place to store it, I pay $199 a month for a storage unit for a couple of boats. Time, I have a 90 minute drive each way plus an hour setup and an hour takedown, that's 5 hours not counting sailing.
I'm comfortably retired, but this would be hard for my kids to do even though they all grew up sailing with me. In 1990, I bought a new Hobie 17 for $3000, and it was an extravagance, but we sailed the hell out of it, and I was able to store it in my garage.
The wealthy are pricing the dwindling middle class out of a lot of things too. I grew up with my parents summer lakefront cabin in southern Wisconsin. My father paid $12K for the cottage in 1965. Unfortunately he sold it when I was a teen, because it'd cost $700K easy today. Sure there's been inflation, but a lot of things that used to be accessible to Joe Average, no longer are.
This is wild. I think we sail at the same club perhaps or same area anyway (I'm at SSC), but to think that in a metro area of over 7 Million people we only have 100 to 200 sailboats out on a weekend is wild. We can't support an RS or Hobie Dealer or something like and East Coast or West Coast Sailboats or Vela Sailing Supply. KO was sort of the last thing that I'm aware of.
Also in terms of time value and money, I feel like there was more disposable income and time in the 70s, 80s, and maybe into the 90s. Now it feels as if time is money moreso and it feels as if there's precious little of it (time), so both the dollars and the minutes have to go further and sailing has too many entry obstacles in both categories.
I think the missing component to the lack of uptake to the affordable used boat market is the psychological hurdle for the current generation to dive in on something they don't know and understand. Yeah, you can get a used 1990 Nacra 5.7 for $4000, but you've got to replace the sails for $3k or more in a year or two, and maybe it needs some fiberglass work that you've never done before, and what does it cost to join a club? and it might need some trailer repair and maintenance too. And geez I'm going to need someone to show me how to do the repairs the first time and learn to sail for that matter. And none of my friends are doing this so who am I going to ask and learn from? and my friends and their kids are starting soccer and swim team and select little league or volleyball and we've got so much on our plate right now, so I'm not sure I'll take the leap just yet. Maybe next year or in a few years when finances or free time becomes more available.... I mean it's enough obstacles to deter all but the most intrigued that have a need to explore and control it with their own hands and brave enough to just jump in and figure it out.
To make sailing cool and attractive it has to start with the little people if we want to grow the sport. I mean both the young and those with normal financial means. Inexpensive Clubs with club boats and something other than optis to get the kids interested and excited. Learn to sail camps with lots of cool viral marketing. In Houston the only way to find out about learn to sail camps is if you go looking for them yourself on the yacht club web pages. Ridiculous. Start a Moana themed program to attract kids that saw the movie and thought it looked cool. Just give them rides for a start and ease them into it. Something simple to sail or ride alongs. Hobie Bravos, Topaz Taz, Waves, Open Bics, give them a ride with an experienced helm flying a hull on something that doesn't look too intimidating. When you get enough kids out and they can see other kids doing it, it will catch on (maybe).
But the phones... as someone said. Devices and screens are life now for a huge percentage of people. I can only hope the next generation - the generation where they weren't a new novelty when they were growing up will be able to have a real life outside the device also.
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