Interview with Stephanie Roble

Clever Pig chats with the skipper of Epic Racing Team

Pictured in photo: Epic Racing Team, from left to right: Janel Zarkowsky, Maggie Shea, Stephanie Roble, Lara Dallman-Weis

Stephanie Roble, 24, is one of the US’s fastest rising sailing stars. After graduating from Old Dominion in 2011 where she was a two-time All American skipper, Steph fast tracked an Olympic match racing campaign which led her all the way to the US Olympic Trials, where she was defeated by Anna Tunnicliffe in the semifinals. In 2013, Roble formed the all-female Epic Racing team and has been sailing nonstop ever since. They have rocketed up the ISAF standings to #3 (as of July 16, 2014) and are on track to make it to the top. Clever Pig Editor Chris Love got to chat with Roble about her team’s efforts so far.

Steph Roble sailing her Opti
Steph Roble and her Optimist, Diva

Clever Pig: When did you start sailing? Where? And in what kind of boats?
Steph Roble: I started sailing in Optimists when I was five at lake Beulah Yacht Club in Wisconsin. Initially I wasn’t a huge fan but I grew to love the time spent with my friends and eventually learned the competitive aspect when I was about 10. From there, I remember looking to my coaches like they were heros and loved winning races. Ever since, I have loved learning, making new friends and of course winning. We had an amazing group while I was at lake Beulah, including Annie and Will Haeger, Joe and George Kutschenreuter, Steph Hudson and Colin Smith.

CP: What made you decide to start a match racing campaign?
SR: The 2012 Olympics and the addition of match racing to college sailing inspired me. I had a couple of good friends who were also getting into the field and thought I would love it. They were right! I immediately fell in love with the fast paced tactical game. The short races require excellent teamwork and precise decisions. There are so many open and women’s events around the world and match racing is trending, especially here in the states. There are just so many all around great opportunities for me.

Trophy Shot
Roble carried by teammates (from left to right): Janel Zarkowski, Elizabeth Shaw, Hollister Poole, Martha Pitt, and Maggie Shea after winning the US Women’s Match Race Champs at Oakcliff in July

CP: How did you go about organizing your campaign, picking teammates, fundraising, scheduling regattas and travel, etc.?
SR: It’s definitely not an easy task. A campaign is practically a full time job. I tried to choose teammates who are 100% committed on and off the water and whose priority is making the team better. Networking and social media are very important for fundraising. We have a Facebook page, twitter and newsletter we regularly send out to our fans. The more you inform people of what’s going on, the more likely they are to support you. Regattas and travel plans take shape once we have a fairly solid budget in place. It’s good to have a couple of budgets. I have one that is the ultimate and then one where we are just getting by. Either way, financials can make or break a team so it is important to be organized and understand how much you really need to spend in order to make the campaign happen. It is very easy to fundraise now. We have a 501c3 (tax deductible) account set up, which helps a lot for bigger donations. We used the website called GoFundMe for friends and family to send any amount and they can visually see how close we are to our goal. Additionally, there are a lot of resources for grant money from yacht clubs, sailing foundations, etc. You must have a solid cover letter that is short and sweet and gets your point across about you teams background, goals and how you will make the goals happen. We have this plus a sponsorship packet that has photos, team stats, schedule, budget, sponsorship levels, etc. this is SUPER easy to make in Microsoft word and it shows potential donors that you make the extra effort. I am totally willing to show anyone what we use and how we operate!

Epic Racing earned bronze medlas at the Women's Match Race World Championship in Cork, Ireland in June.
Epic Racing earned bronze medlas at the Women’s Match Race World Championship in Cork, Ireland in June.

CP: How do you and your teammates balance sailing with everything else in your lives?
SR: All of my teammates have a lot on their plates! Janel is the assistant coach at Georgetown, Maggie is the Sailing Director at Chicago Match Race Center and Lara is sailing full time and running a big boat program. We are all very motivated, hard working girls who are lucky enough to have found programs that are supportive of what we do. We all know when we come together that our priority is the team’s performance and when we are apart that maybe we are focused on other things but we all still watch video, keep in touch about logistics/organization via email and respect what one another is doing. Part of being on a team is being a good team player and these girls excel at that.

Racing at Women's Match Race Worlds
Roble and Epic Racing lead their race at ISAF Women’s Match Race Worlds in Cork, Ireland in June 2014.

CP: What is your ultimate goal with this campaign? What is your ultimate lifetime goal in sailing?
SR: I feel like I have a long list of goals! Top priority is to win a match racing world title. We were so close to the finals this year and that left me seriously hungry for upcoming years! We are still in the running for the WIM Series title so we are definitely fighting hard for that. Additionally, I would love to do some big league match racing in the RC 44 or Extreme Sailing Series as well as become a top level tactician. Ultimate sailing goal…there are too many and I am very young! I kind of want to see what the cards deal!

CP: What advice do you have for other young sailors who might be thinking about starting a campaign?
SR: Campaigns are typically thought to be Olympic based. That is the ultimate campaign that one can do, but the Olympics aren’t for everyone. You have to assess your current and long-term goals and make a plan based on that. There are many different types of campaigns, but they all require the things listed above. Do what’s right for you!

Lightning Round

What is your all-time favorite place to sail and why?
I am a lake sailor at heart! I love my home, Lake Beulah, and for the international experience, I really love Lake Garda!

What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in sailboat racing?
There are way too many I can’t say and hopefully my teammates don’t share : ) but one that is pretty embarrassing is from opti days when I was in an Opti Sailors video and there is a moment where I say, “have you ever been surfing in an opti before? I have! Check this out!” To this day, I still have people sending me clips of that video when they show it to their opti kids at sailing school!

Favorite boat name (yours, someone else’s or imagined)
My Opti was named Diva, which at the time, I thought was the best name. I really get a laugh out of cheesy boat names in different harbors like “Sea U Later” or “Knotorious”…

What is your favorite pump up song for racing right now?
Oh I am loving this song called “Differentology” by Bunji Garlin. Heard it in the islands this winter and I am obsessed.

Any pre-race rituals or traditions?
Must listen to a good playlist and be the first one off the dock.

Any team cheers, chants or expressions?
So we have a couple of funny expressions I can’t say. Although one of my favorites is Maggie’s wake up song and dance that goes something like this…
“I’m alive awake alert enthusiastic!
I’m alive awake alert enthusiastic!
I’m alive
I’m alive awake alert enthusiastic!!!”

Follow Epic Racing on their Facebook page and Twitter and feel free to contact Stephanie Roble through those channels for advice on your own campaign!