Thank you to Clever Pig.org for permission to reprint this interview with Ed Baird, helmsman for Quantum Racing in 2011.
Ed Baird is a sailing legend and most of you already know about his success story: he won the America’s Cup twice (1995, 2007), was Laser and J24 World Champion, three times Match Racing World Champion (1995, 2003, 2004), ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year (2007) and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year (1995). What you might not know, is that Ed is also the father of three young sailors and spends quite a bit of time driving his younger ones to their Opti events around Florida and beyond! In this exclusive interview with Clever Pig, Ed shares with us his past, present and future in the world of sailing and offers some precious advice to both young sailors and their parents alike.
CLEVER PIG (CP): How and when did you start sailing?
ED BAIRD: My folks started me in boats when I was very young. By the time I was 7, I was going fishing with my buddies from school in a little jon-boat with a 5 HP Johnson. We’d load the thing in the back of Mom’s station wagon and head to the boat ramp. Very fun. I started sailing when I was 9 and did my first race on Thanksgiving weekend after taking learn to sail courses in the summer. We had no coach; just a bunch of supportive parents who were happy to send us out in the bay for hours on our own. It allowed us great independence.
CP: How did you transition from a young aspiring sailor to a world-renowned top-level professional?
ED BAIRD: I did my first three Olympic Trials when I was 18, 22 and 26. Each of these campaigns taught me a lot, and along the way I managed to win the Laser and J/24 Worlds and enjoy successes in other classes at a national level. I needed a job, though, so I began working for a company that managed large real estate ventures. They had me managing a large marina complex they were building. One day, as I prepared for a world championship trip, my boss said to me, “In real estate there’s a saying that one drops everything for a deal. But you seem to drop everything for a race. Are you sure you’re in the right profession?” He meant it nicely and as a bit of a joke. He was right, but our sport was all amateur and I didn’t see myself as a boatbuilder or sailmaker, which were the only options for making a living from the sport. So I resigned myself to doing what I did and sailing when I could. But then the rules changed and allowed sponsorship and payment for racing skills. My wife and I looked at each other one day and said, “Let’s go for it!” I left my job, accepted with great appreciation my wife’s sacrifices through many years of living very frugally, worked very hard and eventually we came out where we are today. Fortunately, with the help of countless supporters, sponsors, owners and team mates, I was able to find enough success to make a living at what I love… being on the water. I’ve coached, written articles, delivered boats, trimmed sails, steered and done tactics. I’ve raced in big boats and small, short races and long, monohulls and cats. I’ve hoisted the America’s Cup, and had my boat break in half underneath me. I’ve had sponsors pull out, owners change their minds and events fail to pay prize money. But I’ve also sailed some amazing boats, met some fantastic people and avoided rush hour for the majority of my lifetime. There’s more to come, but it’s been a really great experience so far.
CP: Do you enjoy being involved in sailing as a parent?
ED BAIRD: I do enjoy it, but it’s hard to know when to help and when to let the kids learn on their own. The only requirement at our house is that you try your hardest and enjoy what you’re doing. We live on the water in Florida, so all my kids need to know how to use a boat. What they do with it from there is up to them.
CP: How does your sailing expertise affect your sons’ sailing?
ED BAIRD: Each one of our three boys is different and they respond to their dad being around in different ways. I hope if you ask them, they would say that dad helps out with logistics, clothing, plans and equipment, but leaves them to their own devices when they leave the dock. I’m not on the water with them very often. I enjoy the families and atmosphere on shore and spending time with my wife. The kids will figure it out on the water. We certainly have discussions about situations from the course. And other parents will be happy to know that, as with most teenager/parent relationships, my opinion is usually incorrect… What I hope for my boys is that they learn skills and make friends that will be with them for life. Sailing is a lifestyle sport. You don’t have to win or even race to have a passion for it. You don’t have to steer or own a boat to participate. The people in the sport are top quality. The things you learn about nature, equipment and teamwork are invaluable. Hopefully, my kids will appreciate that and be involved for a long time. Their smiles and stories after a day on the water give me the feeling they will. If they want help from me, I’m easy to find. However, my main job is to let them enjoy being kids.
CP: What advice would you give to all the young sailors who are at the beginning of their careers?
ED BAIRD: Be patient. This is a complicated sport and it takes a while to be good at it. Ask a lot of questions, try a lot of things and make it clear to your parents what you enjoy. Crew for people who are older and more successful than you. Help someone younger or less experienced to get over a fear or eliminate a frustration. Congratulate your opponents for their successes. Always remember that when you win someone else loses so be gracious. Work hard and pay attention and you’ll keep getting better.
CP: What advice would you give to parents of young sailors?
ED BAIRD: Kids “get it” at different times as they grow up. Don’t rush that. They only know part of what we know. Help them by making their sailing experience fun and make sure they have plenty of opportunities to make friends. Don’t take them to every event possible. But do let them explore new places with the friends they make. If you’re going to push, push gently. Remind them of what they learned already. Help them see the good in what they’ve accomplished. Measure the value of events in stories and laughs, not points.
CP: What projects are you working on and what’s in your future?
ED BAIRD: For 2011 I am the skipper of the Quantum Racing TP-52. We have a new boat being built that we’ll race in the Med Cup series and then the TP-52 Worlds. I’m also racing in the Melges-32 class and doing some coaching in match racing and dinghy classes. A big part of my calendar is driving my two younger boys to Opti events around Florida and beyond. They should be wrapping up their Opti careers this year, so I guess we’ll be in the market for a couple of Lasers before long. At least that’s what they tell me. I’m just thrilled that they are pushing me to let them go further in the sport. See you on the water! Ed.
Reprinted with permission from Clever Pig - http://www.cleverpig.org