Sailing Competition: Business or Pleasure?
“Is your trip for business or pleasure?” the airline agent asks.
Seems like an easy question, but for me (on my way to another international regatta), it’s a complete conundrum.
“Business” would imply I’m getting paid to go sailboat racing. And whatever my motivation for high level competition, money ain’t it.
“Pleasure,” on the other hand, implies vacation. Sleeping late, a mid-morning breakfast that morphs right into an early lunch. Naps under a beach umbrella, afternoon cocktails. None of those will be part of the week ahead.
“Is there a third option?” I ask the agent.
(Hopefully this question doesn’t automatically land me on some terrorist watch list.)
Looked at rationally, the high level sailing I do makes no sense. I take off time from work and home life to travel to events that offer no financial reward, adding stress to my otherwise quiet life. The night before racing starts I’ll have trouble slowing my heart rate below the revved-up thumping of a sneaker in a dryer. The next morning, I’ll wake up way too early, my brain churning through stupid questions. Will we have time to get the boat launched ahead of the crowd? Will I get off the starting line? Will the new mainsheet run smoothly? Will the conditions be in line with the forecast? What should I wear?
The thing is, all that lost sleep is totally worth it. Because only a few hours later when we push off the dock, those stupid questions will be left ashore with all other non-racing aggravations. My brain will start to tingle with the focus of sailboat racing, anticipating all the day’s decisions—good, great and otherwise. I revel in pure single-minded potential, every race morning.
Competition gives me the chance to measure myself against others. Rarely does the rest of life offer us such a hard and fast numerical value for our achievements (we finished X out of Y). That’s what brings on the night-before stress, but also what makes sailing well such a satisfaction. And when I don’t sail well, there’s always a cold beer ashore and the promise of doing better the next day.
Best of all, no matter how old I get, nothing will make me better at sailboat racing than more sailboat racing. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, and I learn something new every time I leave the dock. The challenge is taking the time to digest that new knowledge, and using it to do better the next time.
Yes competition creates stress, at least if we care how we do—and why else would we bother? But it’s stress in digestible doses, which helps us learn and grow.
I heard a quote recently that rang true: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” And maybe in that lies the answer for the airline agent:
“Business or pleasure?” I smile back at her. “Let’s see: I’m going to spend the next seven days in a very small boat with only one other person to talk to and nothing to eat besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Most of the time we will be soaking wet and either too hot or too cold, and all of the time there will be several people trying to beat us. I’d call that pleasure, wouldn’t you?”