Ed Baird started sailing at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club when he was 9 years old. Now 58, Baird is still on the water and recognized as one of the most accomplished sailors in the world.
He has won world championships in the Laser and J/24 classes. He was ranked the No. 1 sailor on the 1995 Omega World Match Race Ranking List and won the 1995 World Match Racing Championship. He was named the 1996 yachtsman of the year.
In 1996, he coached Team New Zealand, which won the prestigious America's Cup. In 2007, Baird was helmsman for America's Cup winner Alinghi, which helped him earn world sailor of the year.
The list of his sailing accomplishments is long, which is why he will be inducted into the World Sailing Hall of Fame on Oct. 30 at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Baird will be one of nine sailors inducted for Lifetime Achievement.
Just because Baird is being inducted in the Hall of Fame doesn't mean he is done sailing. Last week he participated in the TP52 World Championship in Menorca, Spain, where he helped Quantum Racing win. This week he will compete in Portugal.
A St. Petersburg native and USF graduate, Baird took time between races to reflect on his life as a sailor, what it means to enter the Hall of Fame and his plans for the future.
When you started sailing as a boy at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, did you have any idea that it would eventually take you around the world?
When I learned to sail in downtown St. Petersburg, I was just hoping to get onto Tampa Bay and splash around. I had no idea that my life would end up filled with the wonderful experiences that sailing has brought me. The St. Petersburg Yacht Club and Sailing Center made it possible to learn about the sport, and my parents were kind enough to encourage me. But I am amazingly fortunate that enough opportunities have presented themselves and allowed me to actually make a living at this sport. It's unbelievable to compete all over the world and experience all the things I have. I feel very lucky.
Were you hooked on sailing right away or did it take you some time to accept the sport?
The independence and challenges that sailing presented got me interested right away. Getting on the water in a boat, alone, at 9 years old, is very empowering. You learn a lot … fast! Sailing was in my blood from Day 1.
I know there have been many, but are there any particular highlights that stand out in your career?
The highlight of sailing is how you can find challenges in so many parts of our sport, and every day there's a new one. I've been lucky enough to find success in incredible events like the America's Cup. I've coached at the Olympics. I've won world championships and international honors. But I've also seen amazing things like thousands of tuna and dolphins chasing bait through the ocean currents, a moon rainbow and massive winds and waves. I've been to fantastic places and met wonderful people. And yet, every day there is something new that I learn about racing boats. I'm in my sixth decade of doing this and still, the next race always seems to be the most important one. I can't wait!
Did you ever think the Hall of Fame was even possible when you first started out?
The National Sailing Hall of Fame is very new. The first induction class was in 2011. … And truly, when it was started, I didn't imagine it would include me for a long time, if ever. But it's important that our sport has a Hall of Fame. There are so many incredible people involved in the sport, and so many impressive feats they have accomplished, it would be a shame not to make that history available for all to remember. That's what the Hall will do.
Have you been working on your acceptance speech? And how many friends and family do you expect to join you?
My wife and sons and a few friends will be there with me. Those that know me understand that things like this make me very emotional. Anything I say will be short and sweet so I can keep my composure.
You are still very active in sailing. Do you ever envision a time when you will get off the water and retire?
If I ever retire, it will be to spend more time on the water. I want to fish and kayak, go to Florida's springs and the Everglades, and generally just enjoy all the beauty and energy that nature gives us. I will be very sad when my days on the water are through.
You've been very active in bringing new participants to sailing. Why do you believe sailing is an activity people, and especially youths, should get involved in?
One of the great things about sailing is that you can choose your level, and therefore do it as long as you can move. You can compete at high levels like I do, or quietly slide through the water enjoying the peace and quiet. You can hop on a kite board and fly across the water, or take your friends on a weekend cruise to another town. When you're involved, you have to plan, execute, build, repair, estimate, evaluate and make decisions. You can work alone, or with a team. You can sail around the world, or across the lake. You have choices, and each one teaches you something."