How to get started in Laser racing
I often get people asking me how to get started in racing the Laser, aka ILCA Dinghy. For a lot of sailors, the simplicity and ubiquity of the Laser is incredibly compelling — you can find a fleet just about anywhere in the world — heck, the 2020 Olympics even have Laser sailors from Papua New Guinea and Mozambique — there are plenty of events, and boats to buy or borrow are plentiful.
That said, it can be a bit of a mystery to figure out how to compete in a Laser. If you sailed the boat in your younger days, the newer rigging may seem complicated (it is a bit more complex to set up on land, but it makes the boat much simpler to sail on the water) and the modern techniques like zigzagging downwind might seem bewildering.
So, here are some resources to learn about modern Laser sailing, in case you’re not familiar:
Buy the RYA Laser Handbook. Written by Laser gold medalist Paul Goodison, it’s the bible of modern Laser sailing. https://www.rya.org.uk/shop/p/dinghy-sailing/rya-laser-handbook-ebook … it’s $100 on Amazon, so don’t go there. RYA keeps changing the URL, so hopefully this article won’t be out of date in a couple of months… if they do, search their website for the book. It’s worth it.
Sign up for the ISA (International Sailing Academy) online learning website, watch their online courses and dig through their Discord site. The instructor quality is top-notch: world champion Nick Thompson, Mark Littlejohn (training partner back in the day for some guy named Ben Ainsle), umpteen time Masters world champion Brett Bayer, and Canadian Olympic coach Vaughn Harrison. Normally you’d pay thousands per week for coaching like this. Their price? $19/month. It’s the best value you’ll ever spend on Laser sailing! https://learn.internationalsailingacademy.com/
Watch the Laser sailing tips and Laser rigging tips playlists on the ISA YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/internationalsailing
If you’d like to go even deeper, this guide by a past Masters world champion Gavin Dagley covers some areas that the others don’t. Despite the fact that “Masters Sailors” is in the title, it’s applicable to sailors of all ages.
Get geared up at West Coast Sailing, which is probably the best overall dinghy gear provider in the US.
And when you can’t find something on West Coast Sailing, check out Southeast Sailboats. It’s a one-man shop that JUST focuses on Lasers, and works regularly with Olympic sailors to try out new designs. Yes, they’re based in the UK, but don’t worry about that if you’re in the US: shipping is actually pretty quick. (Oh, “kicker” is British for vang…)
It’s not Laser-specific, but Dave Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts is an awesome resource to subscribe to ramp up on the tactical side of Laser racing.
Check out the International Laser Class Association North America, ILCA Europe, or google the Laser or ILCA class in your local country.
So there you have it… how to get (re-)started in Laser sailing. What other tips would you add?