Why Sailing, Windsurfing and Kiteboarding?

What is the net value?”  I have been asked.  It is a good question.  What do these “sports for the affluent” have to offer those who have really serious obstacles to overcome if they are even to survive to adulthood?  The sailors, kiteboarders or windsurfers with whom I have shared the vision seem to see the possibilities right away; riding the wind and waves has a way of changing perspectives and it is something we want to share, but most of them do not know where to start. 

 Participants from Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on a pilot run

Participants from Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on a pilot run

David Kelly has invested the last 15 years in co-founding and running a center for peace and healing called Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.  He has said, “We have too many youth who are operating out of a sense of not having any worth — that is pretty much what they have heard — and too many have bought into it. They have all experienced serious violence, and so are dealing with significant trauma and the effects that come with it.  So what you have are young people who are carrying a deep sense of shame, who are traumatized, who have nothing to do, and nowhere to go.”[1] He has also said, “Every kid in our neighborhood knows someone close to them who has been killed so little kids grow up not feeling invincible, but feeling vulnerable.”[2]

One sunny, windy, wavy morning this July we got to take some of the young men involved in David Kelly’s program out sailing along with their mentor as a pilot experience.  Through three outings on the boat each of them got a turn and some wanted to go out a second time despite the large waves.  One of them compared it to riding a roller coaster.  We built on the experience by running group problem solving/team building challenges during their turns on shore. 

As I talked with David Kelly afterward, he said, “They had a good time, some said they were a little scared, they were outside of their comfort zone which was a good thing.  They came back telling good stories so the younger group at the center wants to go sailing too.  Some of them were laughing as they showed pictures they had taken with their phones.  Overall, it was a good team building activity.”  When I asked them, most told me they would like to sail again and some were even interested in taking classes to learn how to sail.  We would really like to teach them along with the other content Carpe Ventus is developing!

It is important that young people learn how to pass tests on paper and on computers.  It is also important to learn how to pass real life tests in a completely foreign situation and to learn adaptive leadership.  These young men have daily, real life tests of survival, but we have the chance to provide a completely different category of challenge and along with it, a changed perspective about what could be.

Even with great intellect and education, if someone has no vision for the direction of their life and no sense of self-worth how can we expect something other than destructive results?  If you and I grew up surrounded by violence, where no one we knew had a job or college education, would our lives look like they do today?  If we only had a really lousy set of choices would we somehow set a good course in life?  Carpe Ventus is creating bridges between communities. This will add to the support network of the young people involved.

We are finding more and more organizations that are making a powerful impact in their communities.  They are responding with excitement to the opportunity to learn life principles and business skills through sailing.  They are saying this is the kind of thing they need to further strengthen what they are doing.  We are working hard to get all the resources and elements in place to be able to come alongside of them.  Thanks for helping us build

[1] Chicago Sun-Times 7/12/14 Stopping Violence Starts with Hope by John Maki.

[2] MSNBC Originals video Rochochet: Part 3: Who buys the guns?

Our Story

While trying to articulate the vision of Carpe Ventus we regularly felt that context was needed.  Why are we so passionate about this?  Why do this now?  What is the point?

Getting to all of this in simple, memorable and sticky statements is a challenge - the vision has history, the mission has context, the strength and commitment behind this venture we call Carpe Ventus is stitched together with dreams, struggles, tears, failures and maturing.  It has been a process and will always be a journey taken one step after the other...seizing the wind one opportunity at a time.

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My wife and I started our family and began raising our three small kids on the west side of Chicago. This gave me some first-hand insight into some of the challenges that people face as they grow up in an under-resourced community.  If I thought I understood, this experience showed me I’m pretty far from understanding; but, I grew a lot.  Those five years were an intense schooling in humility, listening and learning.

At one point, I channeled my irritation with the vandalism of unsupervised kids into organizing a skateboard mentoring program which connected me with a mentee that my family and I have been friends with for years now.  We experienced how learning a new action sport can be a great foundation for a friendship that crosses normal barriers.  After that, I had a hard time finding adults who were interested in skateboarding so the mentor pool seemed somewhat shallow, but it has not been difficult to find adults who know how or would like to learn to sail and are willing to be a mentor or instructor/coach in that context. 

 Lessons and conversation: life and skateboard skills.

Lessons and conversation: life and skateboard skills.

 They called me Tony Hawk - I tried to represent.

They called me Tony Hawk - I tried to represent.

 Challenging assumptions: skateboards for feet only?

Challenging assumptions: skateboards for feet only?

I have been inspired by the value of taking life-giving risks and learning team work that are inherent in wind-riding activities (sailing, windsurfing and kiteboarding) as well as how these experiences are good preparation for leadership and entrepreneurship.  Through pairing the skills and dynamics of wind-riding activities with life skills and principles in the context of mentorship around wind sports, Carpe Ventus creates an environment where relationships and conversation can naturally go deeper.  Research shows that relationships outside a persons’ “normal” circle of influence are a key factor in breaking the cycle of generational poverty.  Going through a challenge and learning a new skill together is a catalyst for bonding.

As I have pursued opportunities to retreat from the city and get out into nature for my own well-being, I have realized that the lake is the nearest natural environment to much of the City of Chicago and getting on the water provides a unique space to interact with nature and develop new perspectives.  Carpe Ventus will provide access to the lake for the next generation that in some cases has literally never seen Lake Michigan.   

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by boats, sailing, tall ships and nautical history.  I grew up next to Lake Huron on a small point between two bays.  When I was too small to drive or sail my own boat I spent a lot of time looking through National Geographic’s Men, Ships and the Sea, I drew pictures of boats, I “designed” and even wrote and roped my friends into performing a song about loving boats at a talent show.  I spent most of one summer on a raft of logs I built with some friends, poling up and down the bay catching clams.  When I was ten I learned to sail a Sunfish and my own sailing ventures began.  Around that time I was so determined to build an iceboat whose plan I found in The American Boy’s Handy Book, that my dad was concerned I would hurt myself and joined the project.  We built two more after that and iceboating on miles of glass ice became a source of many good memories with family and friends!

 The pirate years - circa 1991.

The pirate years - circa 1991.

 Imminent water balloon attack...the sailboat didn't stand a chance.

Imminent water balloon attack...the sailboat didn't stand a chance.

I could share story after story of sailing, iceboating, the pirate years (complete with costumes, water balloons and buckets), the several small, but significant boats I have owned, windsurfing, kiteboarding and even ice kiting on a flooded, frozen park among soccer goals on the west side of Chicago!  The risks, the mishaps and most of all the relationships through it all have profoundly influenced me and I want to share what I can with those among the next generation in Chicago who do not even have the option to access our nearest natural environment.  Imagine that instead of dropping out of school and generating a prison cell in the process young leaders find new passion and goals. 

I want Carpe Ventus to create a mountaintop experience in the flat lands shaping perspectives forever, to see people take wings and soar as they overcome fear and we evaluate risks together. 

I want to see this happening in Chicago and far beyond!