Eternal optimist: 2024 Optimist National Championships comes to Sandusky

For eight days in July, the Sandusky Bay will be dotted with tiny sailboats racing across the water in a national competition for kids ages 8 to 15. 

Kids from across the country will come to Sandusky to compete in the U.S. Optimist Dingy Association’s 2024 Optimist National Championships taking place at the Sandusky Sailing Club on Water Street. 

This group of sailors races in optimist – dubbed opti – boats, which are small sailing crafts that are designed for kids and hold one to two crew members. They’ll start arriving in Sandusky around July 20, with competitions in various divisions, such as team racing, girls nationals and fleet nationals, taking place July 23 -30. 

With them, they’ll bring parents, siblings, and other family members who the sailing club hopes will spend some of their time here enjoying everything the city has to offer, from Cedar Point to local restaurants to water parks, shops, and destinations in the surrounding area. 

Opti Nationals websiteThe Optimist National Championships will take place July 23 -30.Sandusky Sailing Club Commodore Jason Huffman estimates 1,200 to 1,600 people will come to Sandusky for the competition. 

“It’s a nice event for the city,” he says. “It showcases the city and things that other cities don’t have, like Cedar Point.”

The competition is expected to bring in an estimated $1.74 million to the region in business sales, according to Shores and Islands Ohio. Those sales include overnight accommodation, in some cases for multiple days; dining; entertainment; and more. 

“It serves as a platform to highlight Sandusky’s strengths, whether it’s its scenic landscapes, recreational opportunities, or its vibrant community,” says Tiffany Frisch, Shores and Islands Ohio Assistant Director of Group Accounts. “The influx of visitors generates revenue and supports job creation in various sectors. Moreover, it enhances the area’s reputation as a destination for events and tourism, potentially leading to future opportunities for growth and development.”

In addition to the tourism angle, the sailing club is excited to bring young sailors to Lake Erie and get them further interested in sailing after they outgrow the opti boats, Huffman says. The club has Learn to Sail and Junior Racing programs. 

Opti racing usually is a starter path into other types of racing, such as dingy racing and keel boats. Although kids ages 8 to 15 can compete, some outgrow the optis before the age of 15, Huffman says. 

“They don’t have enough room as you get taller,” he says.

During the competition, the sailors guide their boats upwind around a mark. The course will be on the Sandusky Bay, and sailors will leave the sailing club. Wind velocity, forecast and other factors will help race officials determine the racecourse. 

The club, which is run by all volunteers, is expecting about 300 opti boats in the competition. It last hosted Opti Nationals in 2012 and had a similar number of registrants, he says. 

Sailing in the optis gives kids an opportunity to learn problem-solving skills, Huffman says. 

“We put an 8-year-old in a boat by themselves. If something goes wrong, there is no one to fix it for you,” he says. “You have to solve problems, make decisions, and come up with a solution. It teaches a lot of life skills.”

As they continue into other types of sailing, they will put those problem-solving skills to use, and they can translate into dealing with other challenges in life. He recalls sailing two years ago on a keel boat with some junior sailors. 

 “The other adult and I let them figure it out,” Huffman says. “We made sure everything was safe. They got to real-time problem solve. They got to see how things worked, what worked and what didn’t. I think they put that in the back of their mind for when things go wrong in the future and how to fix things.”