Everist ends championship drought for Okoboji Yacht Club

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The drought is finally over -- the Okoboji Yacht Club can once again lay claim to an Inland Championship.

Local club member Steve Everist brought home a class MC championship at the 2012 Inland Lakes Yachting Annual Championship Regatta Aug. 17-19 at Lake Mendota near Madison, Wisc. It is the club's first Inland Championship in over 40 years. The Inland Regatta is one of the premier sailing competitions nationwide each year and Everist competed in four grueling races on the Friday of the event.

Today, the Okoboji Yacht Club provides membership to nearly 500 residents and sees an increase in members with each coming year. Sixty-five sailboats are also registered with the club. On weekends during the summer, the OYC is host to a number of sailboat races on West Lake and night-time socials for members. The club is built upon the love of sailing. They are celebrating their 80th anniversary this year. The yacht club is located on the western shore of West Lake Okoboji.

"Growing up on West Lake Okoboji, I looked up to guys like Jerry Huse," Everist said. He now lives in Colorado, but would often spend summers at the family house in the Iowa Great Lakes and is still a member of OYC. "I've always wanted to win a championship. It puts me in a special class but I think it means more to me as a representative of Okoboji more than anything."

Huse was the last Okoboji sailor to win an Inland Championship Regatta. He was part of a little more than a decade of dominance in the 1960s and early 1970s. He alone won the Class C Championship three different times in the '60s -- 62, 64 and 65. Mike Flannigan won in 1960 and Robert Schneider won three consecutive years from 1967 to 1969. Then, just to put a cheery on top, Huse won the Class C championship again in 1971.

But since that period of dominance from the Okoboji Yacht Club, an Inland Championship had not been brought home until Everist made his trip to Wisconsin.

Everist started sailing at the tender age of five. He would often stay at his grandparents' lake home at Dixon Beach and venture out on to the lake. In fact, Everist's great-grandfather was Don Baxter, the man who originally started the Okoboji Yacht Club. While that can be pointed at as a source of motivation, Everist ultimately attributes his love of sailing to his dad.

"He's really the one who taught me how to sail," Everist said. "My dad is the one that got me started."

The 37-year-old began sailing competitively when his family bought a home on the lake when he was 13. He quickly became aware of the accomplishments of Huse and Schneider and they became a model of excellence. He knew one day he wanted to bring a championship back to the Okoboji Yacht Club.

When asked what draws him to competitive sailing, Everist said it's the intensity.

"(My love for sailing) has probably changed over the years, but now I would say it's the intensity of focus," he said. "It's something that I apply in other aspects of my life as well. My ability to focus has really improved."

At the Inland Championships, Everist participated in four races -- each race lasts around an hour in length. He won his first race, then placed sixth, fifth and eighth respectively in the remaining races. That was enough to put him six points ahead of the next closest finisher, granting Everist the first Inland Championship for Okoboji Yacht Club in 41 years.

"I really hope this inspires kids to get into sailing and keep improving," Everist said about his victory. "I want them to know that it's possible to come from a small lake in Iowa and win."

Everist actually used to be a sailing instructor with the Okoboji Sailing School for six years. Everist said the payoff is watching the kids learn.

"When they are able to go out on the lake and beat me on the race course, it's a great pleasure of teaching," he said.

Everist dedicated his Inland victory to the late Jenny Galagher, who was from Denver, Colo. and drowned on West Lake Okoboji while swimming earlier this month. Everist named his boat Jenny in honor of Galagher and offered his condolences.

"It was a very difficult tragedy that happened," he said.

As far as what the future holds, Everist is always looking to improve. The Inland Championship Regatta returns to West Lake Okoboji in 2013. More than 150 sailors will descend upon the lake next July. But when it comes to expectations for next year's Regatta, Everist said he doesn't have any.

"I try not to have expectations (going into a race)," Everist said. "That's the focus I was talking about. I really get into the psychology of sport. Having expectations is a really bad idea for performance. If I do have an expectation for myself it is to not have expectations and then I will stay focused."

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