NZ-born Samoan Olympian says ‘understanding of sailing’ key to better representation

Samoan sailor gearing up for the Olympics says lack of representation in the sport due to limited exposure and education around water safety.

Samoan Olympic sailor Eroni Leilua says increasing support and education in water safety is important to improve sailing’s representation in the Pacific.

Leilua is set to represent Samoa for the second time at the Olympics in Paris in the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) 7 and ILCA 6 in sailing.

Despite many people in Samoa living near the sea, there is limited knowledge about water safety.

Leilua was born in New Zealand but grew up in Samoa. He fell in love with the sport at the age of eight when his mother took him to their local yacht club.

“When we lived there, we weren’t aware we had a sailing club until mum took us down. So, that exposure and understanding of sailing as a sport and that it is available in Samoa is one of the biggest preventers of the sport growing.

“[Sailing] is a unique sport, it was the biggest attraction for me when I was young…the ability to drive your own vehicle, which, you know, a boat is essentially a vehicle, at the age of eight,” Leilua shared.

“You have no parents looking over your shoulders, you’d be able to get some independence in this vessel and go fast and really learn about the environment.”

He says that more education is needed to help Pacific people feel confident in the water, as the lack of confidence and education in water safety is a significant factor contributing to the underrepresentation of sailing in the region.

“So that exposure and the understanding of sailing as a sport and that it is available,” Leilua says

He hopes to start a program in Samoa to implement these grey areas and help develop the sailing sport in Samoa and around the Pacific.

“One of my biggest goals from competing and going through it myself is to try and set something up for future sailors off the Pacific and some will have some sort of funding they are available so that they do not have to go through the same struggles,” Leilua says.

Water safety or knowledge of safety around water is quite low in Samoa, he said, adding “the understanding of currents and weather systems which just contribute to people not seeing watersports as highly regarded as other countries”.

The Samoan Olympian’s advice to young people is to give sailing a go, be open-minded, learn about the sport, and understand that it is a very different sport from what many others do.

Eroni Leilua evening sailing session.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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