Hobie Sailor of the Month: November, 2013
Hobie Sailor of the Month - November, 2013
Chris Farkas was recently elected chairman of US Sailing’s One-Design Class Council at the Annual Meeting in October. A ten-year veteran of the Melges 24 Class, Chris has served over the years as a volunteer in numerous leadership roles in our sport -- including as US Melges 24 Class President and International Melges 24 Class Vice Chairman. He is a member of the San Francisco Yacht Club.
He was one of the grassroots Corinthians responsible for the recent resurgence of the Class in California and its increasing popularity nationally. With over 850 boats, it is a Class that continues to inspire, with many America’s Cup participants, Olympic Medalists, and Volvo Ocean Race competitors amongst its members. Chris was one of the cofounders of the successful Melges California Cup series, sailed out of some of the most prominent yacht clubs on the West Coast each year.
Professionally, Chris is an experienced international investment banker and private equity executive, formerly with Deutsche Bank, Union Bank of Switzerland, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is the CEO of ACME Labs, Central Europe's leading technology accelerator.
US Sailing: Describe your role as Chairman of the US Sailing One-Design Class Council (ODCC).
Chris Farkas: It's about outreach and supporting others. The ODCC represents 150 classes and serves the needs of one-design sailors in the United States. If your class is a member of US Sailing, then it has a home at ODCC. The goal of ODCC is to encourage the growth of small boat sailing and class racing and to facilitate communication between one-design classes. We believe one-design racing is one of the purest expressions of our sport.
Champions are chosen on the basis of their skill, leadership, teamwork, tactics, boat prep, and handling. Our goal is to catalyze participation in the sport.
US Sailing: Tell us about your history in the Melges 24 class. What attracted you to the Melges 24 originally?
Chris Farkas: I saw the Melges 24 for the first time in England in 2000, and simply knew I had to have one someday. Here was a boat that rewarded driver skill and crew athleticism with dinghy-like performance on a stable platform. Not only a pretty boat to look at, but also a machine designed for a purpose: to push you and your team’s ability on the water. Over a decade later, I still have much to learn from the boat: Melges racing is seldom boring. Even with the advent of other sportboat designs and classes, the Melges 24 remains both a design icon and an approachable opportunity to race against some of the best sailors in the world, go stunningly fast, and enjoy enviable camaraderie – all in a package that represents tremendous value, with used boats available for almost any budget.
US Sailing: As President of the US Melges 24 Class, what were some of the keys to success in revitalizing the class in the United States?
Chris Farkas: Great people. In one-design racing, the boat is only as good as the people on it. The same goes for the class association. When you buy a one-design boat, you aren't just buying a boat, you are joining a family. You may not be able to choose your family, but you can choose your class association. With the Melges 24, we are privileged to have a large (and passionate) family, from sponsored professional teams competing on the international circuit to local club sailors enjoying their boats at the weeknight beer can race.
Same boat, divergent needs. The challenge for our association's governing body and local leadership is balancing those competing interests and working with each group of stakeholders to ensure the owners’ and their crews’ experience is truly compelling. This is accomplished through direct outreach, broad involvement, and healthy debate.
Putting on great events is also very important. In September, we held the best attended Melges 24 Worlds in North America in a decade, at the San Francisco Yacht Club -- pre-financial crisis levels -- with teams from over a dozen countries and some of the biggest names in our sport on the line. The secret? Four years of preparation by a (large) dedicated group. A focus by the class on fewer, higher quality events at top clubs in great sailing venues that people would want to take their families to on a holiday. We built an integrated national calendar to assist with travel. Careful allocation and development of new championship grade events kept owners interested and in their boats on off-cycle years, while encouraging weekend warriors to take the plunge and their racing to the next level. Sharing knowledge at on and off the water clinics by top pros was a big factor too. We also had great partners and sponsors. But most of all, one-on-one outreach to prospective participants was critical.
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US Sailing: Any other thoughts and observations on one-design sailing that others could learn from?
Chris Farkas: Spirited debate. Something often overlooked are a class' rules. When you buy a one-design boat, you are buying into a boat, a class -- and a set of rules. The healthiest classes are those that recognize that change is not only inevitable, but essential. This is inevitable, because with rare exception, designs that fail to evolve get left in the wake of others in an ever more crowded competitive landscape. Essential, because spirited debate around your rules gets people to care, to feel invested, not just in their boats, but in their class.