OSU sailing club sets sails on Northwest, West Coast domination

The OSU sailing club competing against the University of Oregon in the Outlaw Regatta. The club practices at Fern Ridge Reservoir just outside of Eugene. 

Ercoli Crugnale, News Contributor

Looking at Oregon State University, one may not expect it to be a school that has a sailing team at all, let alone one that is growing so rapidly and hopes to eventually hang with the California sailing powerhouses. 

Michael Levy is the team’s captain, and recently represented OSU at the collegiate national sailing competition in Galveston, TX. Michael not only represented OSU, but the entire Northwest division of sailing as a result of him winning the Northwest Intercollegiate Sailing Association Singlehand Men’s Qualifier. Michael and teammate Quanah Green competed in the men’s singlehanded division in the competition in Washington, in which they received first and fourth respectively. 

“The northwest in the past hasn’t really showed up and done well at nationals,” Michael said.

OSU’s appearance at nationals is huge for the team. The majority of programs who receive berths to the competition are elite, east coast schools with a storied history and wealthy alumni, while, Oregon State’s team remains a club team. 

“It’s kind of like golf,” Michael said. “The lowest score wins.”

Michael won the NWICSA Singlehand Men’s Qualifier with a score of 5. The next lowest score was 17. 

Michael insists that it’s the team that deserves the lion’s share of the recognition.

“It’s an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport,” said Hannah Levy, Michael’s older sister. “It’s not like everyone’s in tandem with each other, but you end up learning a lot about people. Sailors tend to be people who are very committed to their sport. There’s a neat culture around that.”

Michael has been sailing since he was in fifth-grade, and since then Hannah says that his rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Hannah said that Michael was sporty, but that nothing stuck for him until he discovered sailing.

“There was this moment of, ‘Hmm, maybe this could be my thing’ that he had,” Hannah said. 

 Living in Santa Cruz, smack dab in the competitive California sailing scene, Michael competed in the entire North American circuit his junior year of high school. In addition, he received an invite to the world Under 21 sailing competition, which he declined to focus on his freshmen year of college.

“It’s his passion, it’s his life,” Hannah said. “He’s an all in person, he doesn’t take things partway. Michael is on the go, always. He’s always running somewhere, like literally running.”

Michael said that, in the spring, the team will field multiple coed boats to go up against other teams in a three on three event.

“The coolest thing about it is that it’s a coed sport. It’s an inclusive kind of sport, and it gets OSU’s name out,” said OSU sailor Andrew Wilkinson.

The team is always eager to take on new members, even ones with little to no experience. All in all, Wilkinson thinks the team is very beginner friendly.

“We’ll pretty much take anyone and teach them,” Wilkinson said. “We teach in a sort of low key race environment. It’s kind of the quickest way to learn how to sail.”

Practice, on the other hand, can be an ordeal all in itself. Three times a week the team piles into vans and drives to Fern Ridge Reservoir outside of Eugene at 3 p.m., and practices until sundown. The difficulty of the sport comes from the minute and maddening details, but Michael says that the joy of the sport comes from its’ delicate complexities.

“Soccer, everyone has the same soccer fields, it’s very very similar,” Michael said. “Our playing field is always at least a little bit different. The wind changes, it’s based on temperature, it’s based on all sorts of things. It’s not a simple sport.”

Despite the team’s growth, the school’s sailing team remains a club team. Due to this, they receive little funding from the school. Michael even purchased his own plane ticket to nationals, with no financial assistance. The team is so barebones that they don’t even have a coach; all practices and regatta travel are organized by the team’s leadership council.

“We could be varsity,” Michael said. “Lots and lots of east coast teams are varsity. But no Northwestern team is varsity, and only two or three West Coast schools are. I’d love to be varsity.”

“It’s a lot of work, and we don’t have the same resources,” Wilkinson added. “We run into different problems than a varsity program would run into.” 

Hannah doesn’t think sailing gets the same amount of attention as other sports.

“It doesn’t get quite the same austerity that other sports do,” Hannah said. “It’s its’ own little niche.”

Michael believes that, with an upgrade to varsity and the extra money and recruits that would bring, OSU’s sailing team could continue to grow and dominate the Northwest.