We were honoured to sit down with Pim van Vugt who will represent the Netherlands in the Japan Olympics. Talking with him about how sailing the RS500 helped him achieve a lifelong goal of joining the Olympics was a humbling reminder that success takes time, hard work and ambition. So how did he get there? Here are his responses to the questions we all wanted to ask!
How did you get into sailing?
Sailing has always been a part of my life, I started racing sailing in 2012 when I was 17. My sister and I discovered many different boats and soon realised we loved sailing double-handers together. We were able to just hop in and know each other’s style, trust each other, and ultimately have the most fun. We tried our dad’s Simoun 445 which he used to sail with his brother which was great fun and then one day accidentally came across the RS500. We were so surprised at how it performed, and it really was the perfect boat for us since we both love speed, simple handling and asymmetric designs.
Why do you enjoy sailing?
I definitely enjoy sailing double-handers more because they demand a good team, good knowledge and expertise rather than hiking your ass off just to be one metre in front of the others! There are so many aspects of sailing that you can improve so even when you think you can’t get any better, there’s always something to work on… and having to be good at them all at the same time is a complex challenge I love.
When I joined the academy team for the Federation of Sailing in the Netherlands, it led to this amazing opportunity to sail 49ers. I’ve been training and sailing with this project for about a year and a half now but still love to jump into the RS500 when I can! I think sailing is so amazing because you learn different skills from different boats, and that’s what makes you a better sailor.
One of my most memorable moments is the RS100 National Championships because it was more relaxed and I was there to have fun. So, I could play around a bit more and try new techniques I’d learnt from completely different boats. I really did love the RS100 because it was rapid, but not so much having to hike out the whole time…
What has been the most challenging moment so far?
Well, when I was younger and got invited to the team and I knew the training was going to be really intense. So, I was already a little apprehensive about the lifestyle change and knew that I’d have to work hard to balance training and studying. I decided to take the opportunity anyway, and it did turn out to be one of the most challenging periods of my life so far. Mentally, I struggled a bit. We were training more than we were racing, so for someone who lives to race – it wasn’t what I expected. I struggled to stay motivated since I couldn’t see my racing placements or times…
I think the biggest challenge so far was the 2015 Youth Worlds, I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared and we had some last-minute changes to positions. At the time, I wasn’t really enjoying racing sailing as much as I wanted to and for about a year and a half, experienced difficulty managing my time and trying to enjoy these incredible moments. This was quite a low moment for me, but I learnt a lot about myself and here I am now!
How did you overcome it?
For me, learning is the side of sailing where I get the most enjoyment. So, when I heard about the 49er project, it gave me something to really look forward to. The idea of trying a new boat, learning new skills and meeting new people were just a few of the things that motivated me and helped me overcome that low moment.
I also think (and this applies to every aspect of life) that it’s so important to focus on things that are going well. At the time where I wasn’t enjoying racing sailing so much, I would sail the RS500 with my sister and remind myself how much I really do love sailing. It was always great to sail with her because she just gets me, you know? We can just jump in and go sailing, have a great session without even thinking.
Do you feel pressured to win?
Initially, I used to think maybe I should better because I’m in an elite team and people have their expectations of how I should perform. But I don’t feel that now, not everything can be perfect all the time because nothing is certain, the wind can be unpredictable and we’re all human – you can only be the best you can be and enjoy it. I guess sometimes I feel I put pressure on myself, but never externally anymore. I think it helped that my parents never pressured me or my sister to get into sailing, we were given the opportunity and had their full support in whatever we wanted to do whether it was driving us to events or helping us buy boats. I wouldn’t say I feel pressured by other people to win though.
What would you say to someone who wants to get involved?
The most important thing about sailing is to enjoy it. Take it step by step with regards to skills development and your own expectations of yourself. Nowadays, social media makes us feel like everything has to be instant, we only see the results online but never the process. You know, you can see a really beautiful picture on Instagram, but you will never really know how it was taken, who was involved and what had to happen in order to capture that moment. So just take things one step at a time and try to enjoy every moment of it, that’s my advice.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself…
Well… this is unrelated but also quite important! Before I got into sailing professionally, I did 10 years of water polo! It worked out great because in the sailing offseason I did water polo training and events. It was great combination, but now I just focus on sailing. With that said, I think sports are so important to being healthy and active. Without the fitness and physical strength I got from water polo, I don’t think I would have been able to succeed in the Youth Squad at the time.
We are so inspired by Pim’s story and hope that our young budding sailors are just as ambitious to continuously learn, progress and achieve their dreams. If you want to know which boat could is perfect for you, have a look at the RS range here.
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