Saudi Arabia may not be the first place you’d expect to find a burgeoning sailing scene, but sailing is, in fact, a deep-rooted part of the country’s heritage.

From the dhow boats that ferried pilgrims to Mecca, to their historical reliance on water for trade, for hundreds of years Saudis have made seafaring a way of life. While it has skipped a couple of generations, sailing is making a strong comeback in the Kingdom, thanks to concerted efforts from the Saudi Sailing Federation and the Ministry of Sport as part of the country’s Vision 2030.

As CEO of the Saudi Sailing Federation, Samia Bagdady is one of the key figures leading the charge. Aged 36 and one of the first four women ever to head up a national sports federation in Saudi Arabia, Bagdady embodies the rapidly changing social and business culture of the country, and expresses her enthusiasm for the sport’s potential: “Historically speaking, sailing has been deeply entwined with our country’s identity. We’re lucky enough to have 1,760 kilometers of coastline on the West Coast and another 560 kilometers on the East Coast. We’re surrounded by this stunning, unexplored playground.”

A keen kiteboarder herself, Bagdady’s ambition is to one day see a Saudi sailor compete on the international stage, but she recognises that a long-term approach is required, commenting that “sailing in Saudi Arabia is still in its infancy. We need to get all the right pieces in place in order to develop the sport.” In that regard, the Saudi Sailing Federation is particularly interested in building youth participation. Bagdady explains, “We put a massive focus on youth because that’s where you foster talent. In terms of sailing ability, nothing beats time spent on the water, so starting with the kids is key. Our athletes for the 2032 Olympics will currently be in their teens, so that’s why we’re investing heavily in getting more kids onboard, both literally and figuratively.”

From 29 November to 2 December, the second preliminary regatta of the prestigious 37th America’s Cup will take place in Saudi Arabia for the first time in the event’s 172 year history. As the world’s oldest international sporting competition, hosting the regatta in Jeddah places the country firmly on the global sailing map. However, the hope is that the spectacle of the America’s Cup will inspire locals to try sailing for the first time, with Bagdady emphasizing, “The America’s Cup will showcase what sailing can be, to give people something to strive for, and to accelerate the growth of sailing in Saudi Arabia.”

Given that two-thirds of the Saudi population is under the age of 34, Bagdady sees a promising future for the sport, with the America’s Cup just one of the first steps in the Federation’s plan: “We’re using events like the America’s Cup to kick-start new initiatives to develop sailing in Saudi Arabia over the long-term. This includes our Discover Sailing program, which involves setting up pop-up events across the country, focused on getting more kids onto the water and experiencing the sport first-hand.”

Already this year, 1,000 children have discovered watersports for the first time at the new Academy at Jeddah Yacht Club – the venue for the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta – with no signs of slowing down next year. Above all, the Saudi Sailing Federation puts the priority on enjoyment:

“We’re creating educational opportunities, encouraging participation, and shaping an environment where kids can not only learn but fall in love with sailing. As more young sailors embark on this journey, we’ll see a clear performance pathway emerge. Our task right now is to make sure that our young sailors are having fun on the water.”

With more and more watersports opportunities appearing across the Kingdom, join the Saudi sailing revolution today. Ready to start your journey? Find the nearest academy to you on the Saudi Sailing Federation’spartner centers page.

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