Gear Corner: Sailing Boots Versus Sneakers

Welcome to Gear Corner! When it comes to competitive sailing, do you prefer sailing boots or sneakers? NESS’s Director of Sailing Programs Mark “Zorro” Zagol tells about his sailing sneaker preference!

“I distinctly remember the first pair of Aigle sailing boots that my parents bought for me when I was about 13 years old. I also remember how much trouble I got in when I used a pair of scissors to convert them from high-top boots into short sneakers… There seems to be a split on wearing boots versus sneaker (or going barefoot for that matter) while sailing competitively. For me, this debate between sneakers and boots didn’t last long: I am a devoted sneaker sailor.

Throughout high school and college, I sailed competitively in a variety of boats. As a smaller and lighter Laser sailor, I had to be in the best shape to keep up with all the taller heavier sailors. I spent hours after school riding my road bike and working on my hiking strength. During all my biking and strength training, I was wearing sneakers. So, I figured, why would I change from sneakers to boots when it came to sailing?

Mark in sneakers, Drew in boots at a 505 Midwinter Championships in 2016

I decided that if I wanted to compete at the top level of sailboat racing, it only made sense that I wore shoes that felt right and allowed me to move around a boat as efficiently as possible. After all, when was the last time you saw a professional athlete in clunky boots? The first time I was honored as an All-American sailor in college, I remember how disappointed I was that Sperry was no longer a sponsor. The upperclassmen who received All-American honors before me had all received a brand-new pair of white Sperry sailing sneakers—which, at that time, were the only sailing sneakers on the market! Today, the sailing sneaker and boot options are seemingly endless.

Sailing apparel has come a long way over the past 25 years and the technology in all the gear is significantly better. With more neoprene options and a larger selection of both sneakers and boots, the sailing footwear debate only gets better. I will often ask my sailors who their favorite athlete is and then I ask what do they wear on their feet. I get a lot of “yeah but…” responses. For me, I still wear sneakers and probably always will. So how about you, what do you prefer????”

Mark Zagol was a two-time Collegiate All-American sailor. He joined the NESS team after a 12-year career as a collegiate sailing coach which included coaching at the United States Coast Guard Academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and ODU. Mark remains very active in the sailing community, sailing all types of boats. He was the US Team Racing Champion in 2005 as well as the 2013 505 North American Champion. In 2013 Mark was part of a team at NESS that accepted US Sailing’s Outstanding Community Sailing Center Award. In 2015, Mark received US Sailing’s Outstanding Program Director Award.

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