Oscar Lindley-Smith is not like most teenagers.
He doesn’t spend his weekends hanging out with friends, watching films or walking around a mall.
As the world’s youngest competitive foiling helm – a sailor who steers a catamaran which flies up on top of the water suspended on a pair of hydrofoils – 16-year-old Oscar, who lives in Abu Dhabi, spends most of his spare time at sea.
And now he has another mission to occupy him: to secure US$240,000 of sponsorship to help him forge a career in the sport and compete in Foiling Week – the world’s only dedicated event for foiling boats – on Lake Garda in Italy this summer.
He hopes to find a company or companies that will sponsor him to help him continue his sailing experience and be recognised at the top of the field.
“Foiling is the new generation,” says Oscar, who used to sail an 8-feet long mono hull but has since moved on to a Flying Phantom, an 18ft carbon fibre catamaran, which his family has shared with another family for just over a year.
“There are less than 100 of these boats around. We bought boat No 11 from the first batch of boats. So I am one of the most experienced young helms anyway for this boat, which is a unique selling point I’m trying to use.”
But because the boats are so new, they are expensive.
If his sponsorship bid is successful, the money will pay for the purchase of another boat, which is worth upwards of €40,000 (Dh167,355) to use in Europe, plus all the running costs, spares and repairs. He will also find a professional crew to take the place of his father, who currently sails with him.
“As a sailor I will be the youngest foiling person in the world competing at the high end. There will be no one else of my age up there competing,” says Oscar.
“Any company that partners with me from the beginning will also benefit from this success. At the moment sailing is in a massive growth stage. The viewings have gone up tenfold since even last year. It is a very spectacular sport with these new boats. There are lots of different stunts that can be done that create spectacular imagery.”
Oscar was introduced to sailing at the age of three, but was not immediately taken by the sport as it was initially limited to group exercises with paddles to keep it safe. But his potential was quickly noticed and he was soon sailing twice a week.
“That was when I really started enjoying it because we were racing and sailing independently instead of doing these exercises,” says Oscar, who is from the UK but has lived in the UAE for the past 11 years.
“One of the main things I enjoy is being out and the feeling this gives you. There is a lot of responsibility on you. It is all about the hard work you put in and I really enjoy reaping these rewards when racing.”
To help secure the sponsorship, Oscar, who attends Brighton College, has produced his own proposal document to present his business case. The document outlines his motivations – the freedom, challenge and enjoyment it offers – as well as his achievements, plus short and long-term targets. It shows where a company could display its logo, such as on his rash top, trousers, trailer, the boat itself and even his car.
But most importantly, the document outlines why a company should sponsor him. According to Oscar, the company or companies will receive global TV coverage reaching at least 5.5 million unique viewers and a further 200,000 views via social media. In the UAE, Oscar points out that he trains on the Abu Dhabi Corniche breakwater surrounded by five-star hotels and apartments, which received 1.2m visitors in the first quarter in 2014. He estimates sponsors will receive a further 1,000 views from him sailing in front of Jebel Ali Hotel in Dubai. And more than 2m visitors to Lake Garda will see him train there over the summer.
“Foiling is the high performance top end of sailing that has exploded since the last America’s Cup was raced using giant foiling catamarans,” says the sponsorship proposal, which Oscar put together himself.
“The speed that comes with foiling has drawn many times more spectators than has ever previously been seen in sailing – it has become the Formula One of the sport. Drones continually film and broadcast to spectators on the shore. TV and YouTube coverage is released after every race.”
But persuading companies to get on board here is hard. Oscar has spoken to a few so far, but his conversations have been limited to email so far. Juggling sailing and school is also a challenge.
“I am getting interesting pressure from both sides. I was recently in Oman for the America’s Cup and catching up just two days from that was difficult. I have my AS levels in a month’s time so it is very difficult,” he says.
“I am trying to do both, because if something happens in my sailing, if I get an injury or something, I need a fallback plan. At the moment it is sort of a double focus.”
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