Explore Madison lakes with sailing this season

We’re known as a paddle city, but Madison also has a great scene for sailing.
People attend to sailboats on Lake Mendota near sunset.
Photo courtesy of Myk Jordan of Creative Commons
People attend to sailboats on Lake Mendota near sunset.

Madison is a city surrounded by lakes, which many can enjoy from boats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. We’re known as a paddle city, but Madison also has a great scene for sailing.

As summer heats up and you take to the lakes this season, Mills Botham, head of instruction at Hoofers Sailing Club, says it might be time to give sailing a try.

Botham says there is so much to do in Madison, but sometimes people don’t take enough advantage of the access to sailing. “I think lots of people that have been in Madison for long periods of time kind of take our access to water and outdoor recreation not for granted, but just as part of a natural life. Whereas in reality we have the good fortune of being here on an isthmus where the opportunities to get on the water are much more frequent than they are in a lot of other places,” Botham explains.

Hoofers Sailing Club, connected to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and entirely student-led, provides lessons, youth programs, camps and events to students, faculty and staff, along with members of the community who are Union members. “We like to think it’s not just a transactional relationship where they help people come in, they sign up for a membership, they take lessons, they leave,” Botham says. “We like to think of it as being more to the place than that.”

Hoofers Sailing Manager Dave Elsmo, who has been sailing since childhood, says the sport offers many life lessons. Despite having years of experience, he learns something new every time he sets sail.

“Being out and on the water … there’s no motors, there’s no radio noise, there’s just time for you to go out there and experience being pulled along by mother nature,” he says.

However, there remain misconceptions surrounding sailing that might serve as barriers to entry, including the intimidation factor. Elsmo encourages beginners to stick with the sport and not give up. He says once you cross over the hump and have an “aha” moment the process gets a lot easier.

Botham says another misconception is that sailing is too dangerous or complicated by virtue of it being a watersport. Hoofers prioritizes safety and has even made improvements over the years, he says.

Cost is also a consideration when it comes to the sport. “I think that sailing gets a bad rep as being something that is financially out of reach,” Elsmo says. Hoofers offers youth program and adult scholarships in hopes of making the sport more accessible.

For those who may be interested in sailing, Botham says there is great variety in the ways instructors teach and students learn at Hoofers. People can pick up lessons at their own pace, and there is a place for everyone to join in the fun. Botham also mentions Hoofers provides one of the least expensive exposures to sailing in the area. After paying annual membership dues ($249 for students and $374 for Union members), there are no per-boat use fees or per-lesson fees.

“This sharing of knowledge and shared passion for sailing is really what ties the sailing club together and it’s one of the reasons that I enjoy working here as much as I do,” Botham says. “It’s not just a matter of getting on a boat and getting in the water. That is of course always available, but it’s the people you meet here and the experiences that you’ve gained that I think are really unique and exceptional about this place.”

Ready to give it a try? Here are a few spots to set sail in Madison.

Set Sail in Madison:

Hoofer Sailing Club
Madison’s own Hoofer Sailing Club owns “the second largest inland fleet of boats in the United States.” Members can also learn the basics on topics including boating and maintenance, and its youth program offers courses in sailing, windsurfing, and racing for kids ages 10-18. Memorial Union, lower level, 800 Langdon St., 262-1630, hoofersailing.org

Lake Kegonsa Sailing Club
Members of the Lake Kegona Sailing Club don’t just reap the benefits of joining a community and sailing. By filling out the membership form on the club’s website, people have the opportunity to connect and engage in social gatherings all year. The club also boasts a good price for an annual membership for solo sailors and families alike. The former costs $40 and the latter is $50, along with an option for children at just $10 per year. Stoughton, lksc.org

Lake Monona Sailing Club
Sail past the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center with the Lake Monona Sailing Club. Providing options to join as a social, crew, junior or regular member, Lake Monona Sailing Club aims “to make sailing as easy and affordable as possible” for everyone regardless of their skills or expertise. 4227 Winnequah Road, Monona, 235-9231, lakemononasailing.com

Madison Youth Sailing
Kids itching to get outdoors? Enroll them in classes with The Madison Youth Club, founded in the mid-1960s by a group of parents at the Mendota Yacht Club. The nonprofit covers weekly introductory classes for six weeks for those ages five to seven. The club also offers a “Learn to Sail” class for first-time sailors ages eight and older and a “Green Fleet” course that helps kids begin racing and traveling. Classes are held in the evenings and enrollment is available for the summer. Maple Bluff Marina, 1321 Farwell Drive, madisonyouthsailing.com

Madison Women Sailing
If you’re in for some friendly competition, join the Madison Women Sailing Club. The club comprises a group of women who compete in the Mendota Yacht Club weekly races. All maintenance and repair costs are split among the members. madisonwomensailing.com

Mendota Yacht Club
The Mendota Yacht Club is dedicated to encouraging members old and young to start sailing. Though the club canceled its beloved Payton Regatta party due to COVID-19, its members are excited to resume activities, with plenty of events and races ahead. Burrow Road, mendotayc.org

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