Water sports could make a big splash

The Journal begins a new section this month, dedicated to analysing the sports scene in the Cayman Islands.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan five years ago the last thing on the government’s mind was to capitalise on the sports tourism industry. But with the financial sector deflated, Cayman’s natural resources could be an invaluable source of revenue if promoted better, writes Journal journalist Ron Shillingford.

That’s the view of Dalton Watler, the director of Sports. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to develop sports tourism,” he says. “We’ve got the three important factors; sand, sun and sea.
“If we were to put in place a particular programme using these things it would really enhance the product of our country and bring more revenue. It’s up to the government how they approach this.”

Watler maintains that having such events as jazz, film and cultural festivals is all well and good but it is pretty pointless trying to compete with other Caribbean countries that already have well established events in these genres.

He also feels that although many land–based sports such as golf, tennis, squash, rugby, boxing, football and bodybuilding have successful one-off events here annually, they are not inclusive enough of the Cayman population and are merely poor imitations of what competing countries do.

“We have to make sure that whatever we do it has to have some sort of Cayman identity. This is what’s going to make us well known in the region and worldwide.
“We should do some thorough research into what would work using sun, sea and sand and move in that direction.”

Watler has plenty of support from many working in the water sports industry – and not just because they have a vested interest. It all makes perfect sense.

Cayman’s diving scene is world renowned. As recently as December 2007, the tourism website Forbes Traveller rated Grand Cayman “as the best diving destination in the Caribbean”. So too in the same month did the World Travel Association.

Justin Schmidt is managing director of Turtle Sports Ltd on Seven Mile Beach, specialising in wave boarding. His company was featured in a recent issue of Wake Board magazine and he’s seen a substantial amount of business stemming from that publicity.

“I think Dalton’s suggestion is terrific and it would be a giant stride in the right direction if the government is looking to promote water sports in a positive light,” says Schmidt.
“If they promoted, say a water sports week, it would be extremely beneficial for an island-wide awareness of what activities are offered.

“Many people who live and visit don’t have a central source of information on what is available. A government supported island-wide campaign could help bring all the options to light and in turn be an added income producer for many on-island businesses.

“I feel a water sports week could be a great addition especially in the summer months when many people fall into the same, boring routine. A water sports week is also a great promotion to get tourists and locals alike off the couch and get outside to get some great exercise.”

Sailing in Cayman used to be the preserve of the elite but thanks to the efforts of Mike Weber, the sailing director, and many of his like-minded colleagues, it now has substantial corporate backing and is taught in many schools. Novice youngsters are already doing really well in international competitions.

 “North Sound is a world class small boat sailing venue because it is easily accessed from the Cayman Islands Sailing Club and there is consistent wind and warm temperatures,” Weber says.
“We have in the past attracted top level sailors to events such as the Tornado North American Championships and the three KPMG J/22 International Regattas.

“We have also offered coaching clinics that utilised our excellent training facility, which saw athletes from other countries including as far away as Singapore.
“In March we are hosting a major event; the North American and Caribbean Qualification Regatta for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.”

Andrew Moon is the sailing club’s commodore. He says: “I absolutely agree with Mike. There are huge opportunities for sailing related tourism, limited by such factors as hotel availability. For example, we were considered by one sailboat class for its world championship for next year but we do not have the 300-plus rooms required for that event.

“We were also considered to host the 2010 International Sailing Federation annual meetings which would have brought 500-plus participants (usually including at least a couple of kings, a crown prince, a few billionaires and all their entourages!)”

Volleyball official Noel Williams would love to see his sport given a higher profile too.

“As president of the Cayman Islands Volleyball Federation I think sports tourism is the way forward,” he says. “I think government has to get involved with the region’s beach tournament organisers.

“In March when we had the tournament, over 200 persons came in from overseas. At the venue we had over 5,000 people that attended the tournament over the weekend at Public Beach and over ten million viewed by internet. If government gets involved, the next tournament will be much bigger and better.”

Fishing, jet skiing, kiteboarding and sea swimming all have well developed events that with more promotion could gain terrific exposure and considerably more revenue.

The Flowers Sea Swim in June attracted competitors from as far afield as Australia and was this year started by Ryan Lochte, the world and Olympic champion swimmer and probably the second-fastest swimmer in the world after Michael Phelps.

It is one of the biggest and best organised of its kind in the world, attracting almost 800 competitors.

Lochte couldn’t do the one mile Flowers course this time because it would have interfered with his training schedule for the world championships a month later. But he has promised to return next year to take part, along with a whole bunch of Olympic and world class swimmers, so who knows who we may attract to Cayman’s shores next year?

The Journal begins a new section this month, dedicated to analysing the sports scene in the Cayman Islands.