North Sails LOFT NEWS

GROWING UP WITH SAILING

Amelia Leeksma Shares Her Transition From Junior Sail To Full Time Job

Amelia grew up sailing and transitioned her way to different boats while she transitioned throughout life. Her involvement from a young age with sailing led to her career as a sailing professional with the National Yacht Club as their programs and marketing manager. Additionally, she is a  LF with Ontario Sailing and is on the CANSail Panel with Sail Canada. She also coached the Ontario Team 29ers at the last Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg and has coached at several Ontario Summer games.

How did you get involved in sailing, both as a casual hobby, but then how did you get involved in it in a professional manner?

I started sailing as a young person when I was 10 at National Yacht Club in the Sailing School Camp. The primarily the reason we joined was because my older brother was already in the camp and he really liked it; I think it was easier for my parents to send us both to the same place. The reason we found out about it was because my brother’s friend’s parents were members at National and his kid didn’t want to go to camp without friends going to camp with them. So that’s really how it all started. The reason why I kind of stayed in the sport and continued sailing was I kind of latched onto it. I mean the sport is one that you don’t have to be the most physically fit person but, and it’s also a mental game. I found the racing aspect of it was really both challenging and rewarding and I like to sail fast. So I got into like racing 29ers and Skiffs and that was really exciting and fun. When I kind of graduated out of the youth racing scene and I was at the University of Toronto, I did some collegiate racing and also some match racing, which was a bit of a different mindset. It was definitely more of a mental game then as well. But all my previous experience racing and in fleet racing and on skiffs was helpful because I had already a very good understanding of the rules. And that was crucial to understand how to match race at all.

In terms of getting into the professional side of things, I really finished school and I wasn’t sure what to do. I had been, while I was in university, coaching. It started off at Etobicoke Yacht Club doing CAN Sail 1 and 2 and intermediate there. I enjoyed doing that and it was an absolutely wonderful way to both earn some money when you weren’t at school, stay outside and stay involved in the sport. I really wanted to race coach, so the opening came up at National for the race coach position here and I was like, “I’m applying there and I want to coach double-handed.” So I worked at National, the race team, primarily we converted the team to a 420 team and I did that for I think three summers. Once I finished school like I said, and I was working at National, they were like, “Well, do you want to work in the office in the winter until you figure out what you want to do?” I said like, “Sure, that sounds like fun.” So I did a season as the receptionist and then they were like, “We’d like to make a position for you here.” Amelia is the programs and marketing manager at National Yacht Club. 

What were your first impressions of the sailing world from a professional lens? Now that you are on the professional side of it, do you think that your impressions of the sailing worlds have changed at all?

I think that honestly the experience I had as a youth sailor and as a racing coach very much prepared me for the politics, it is a male dominated industry. I think [because] I grew up in it, I’ve just become sort of used to that. I think people appreciate it once they know that you have the history and you understand what you’re talking about, it’s easy for them to respect your opinions. There’s sometimes the assumption that you might not know stuff about boats because you just work in the office and they don’t necessarily know that you have a sailing background.

What keeps you coming back for more for sailing? What keeps you wanting to come back every day to work?

I think that especially here, we have a smaller office team, so there’s lots going on. There’s always challenging and there’s always something different happening. I think I would go crazy working in an office building where I do the same thing every day. I think that’s a good feeling to me. Also I just like being near boats and talking about boats and the programming side of things is really my favourite part. Figuring out educational programs for adults that the members will be interested in and then especially organizing the camp and getting kids involved in the sport and hopefully keeping sailing alive in Canada. I think that starts with having a good junior sail program. A lot of people have this misconception that sailing camps, it’s really expensive and there’s no way I can afford to do that for my kid; but you look at our camp compared to the costs of other types of camps, we’re very reasonably priced. 

Where would you love to see sailing in three to five years when it comes to women’s involvement in the sport?

I mean I think in the ideal world, it would just everyone would be on an equal footing. Having more females in professional settings so that it doesn’t seem odd to have a female GM at a yacht club. I think that would be ideal. I mean, I like the idea of females being congratulated and regattas and stuff like that but that should just be normal. The other thing I would say though is that last year, I think it was last summer or maybe two summers ago, I participated in the Women’s Keelboat Championship at Mimico with a team from National. And it was so great to be in an environment that was ladies only competing against other women in the sport. Hopefully there’s just more women on the boats.

What would be your advice for women looking to get involved in sailing?

I think don’t let one bad experience turn you off. It’s so easy to get on a boat with a crew of people and they say something offhand that’s very offensive to you. Don’t be discouraged by that. Those might not be the people that you want to continue sailing with. That’s fine. Keep going out on different boats because there are wonderful teams out there and great skippers that appreciate having a female on the boat and they’re not just going to make you rail meat. They’re going to have you do something like tactics or give you an actual job to do. So I think it’s important to be trying and not to be immediately turned off by one bad experience with one person.

Through her involvement in sailing as a coach and program level, she hopes through my coaching and mentorship as an LF she can demonstrate to future coaches and our younger sailors (both male and female) that there is a place for women in sailing. Amelia feels strongly that if we want to keep sailing relevant in the future we need to get more women involved and really listen to female sailors and try to analyze why women might feel alienated in our sport.