Alex was introduced to sailing at 12 and quickly became addicted to the silent rush of power that is sailing. This passion was sparked by the Canadian Sea Cadet Program where Alex quickly completed his levels and began teaching.
Hungry for more and different experience, Alex left the cadet program to become the head instructor at The Boulevard Club and a Community Sailing Club, Westwood. Here he was able to expand and hone his interest in programs development and organization. It was through this experience that Alex realized Teaching was his calling and is now an Ontario Certified Teacher, as well as an Instructor Evaluator with Sail Canada.
In order to keep his sailing skills sharp, Alex can be found sailing various dinghies and keelboats, however recently he’s been preoccupied with the j/24, 49er, and Nacra 500 catamaran.
How did you first get involved in Match Racing?
I became involved in Match Racing last season after having sailed the J/24 Pan Am trials with Landon Gardener. He was putting together a new team to race locally with the possibility to hit some close US regattas. I figured this was a great opportunity to up my sailing skills and to get in some minor traveling, so I started going to practices and we entered our first regatta, The York Cup, and placed 3rd. I was addicted from there on out!
What drew you to this style of racing?
To me, it feels like the most distilled form of sail boat racing. It comes down to control and skill, and how you are able to impose your will on another boat. Although, the boats are evenly matched, you have to be 100% clean with your boat handling, maintain your boat speed, and be on your tactics game. But how this differs from fleet racing is that its only two boats and you both are actively hunting each other to gain the advantage, whether that’s a penalty, counter penalty, a better start, or clean air. Essentially, its a much more aggressive and mentally and physically demanding form of racing, as you end up doing 10 - 12 races in a day.
Also, the umpire debriefs really allow the competitors to understand why and how calls are made on the water. So much learning and in what other type of racing do you get that kind of race committee transparency!
What’s it like racing internationally in such a competitive class/style of sailing?
To be honest, I may still be looking at this whole thing with rose coloured glasses, but it's amazing. It's really interesting to see how various venues are able to offer such varied forms of racing at such high levels of execution, when match racing is almost non-existent in the Golden Horseshoe, save for National Yacht Club and Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
In terms of competition, I think now the pressure is on! We set some lofty goals this season to get on a few of the Grade 2 US Grand Slam events and we’ve come very close to qualifying. As we’ve moved through the qualifier circuit, we are encountering tighter and tighter teams so the level of competition is quickly leveling up each time, which forces us to keep our own game on point! Now with us building a small following and our gear partnership with Fogh Marine, there are eyes watching us so there is a bit of pressure to represent ourselves well!
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since starting Match Racing?
The sailing pyramid doesn’t lie! You have to spend the most time on making sure your boat handling is 100% before you can start to tune up for boat speed. Finally, your tactics game in your head may be amazing but it is really only as good as your ability to sail fast and to perform clean maneuvers.
Personally, the biggest thing I have learned is to be confident and clear in the calls you make on the boat. Since I trim main upwind I also double as the upwind tactician. Early on, I didn’t have a great understanding of upwind tactics so I always made shaky or undecided calls. But despite the fact that some calls may be good and some bad, if a decision is made and definitively called out, it is much better from a team perspective. We can debrief afterwards what the result of the action was based upon the decision. Also, from a learning perspective, trial and error is much better than undecidedness.
What are your hopes for Match Racing in Canada?
This is a big year for match racing in Canada with the Canada’s Cup defense. I hope that event spurs some interest in match racing. But regardless of that, I want match racing to grow in Canada, more specifically here in Toronto. The benefit is that we, 6ix Match Racing, can get some training partners and really up Canada’s presence on the match racing circuit and even the World Tour. We have a solid infrastructure for it to blossom at RCYC and there are fleets of matched boats scatters all around the lake. I think it's about targeting that awkward demographic where you’ve just aged out of junior club and you aren’t able to buy your own keelboat yet, but you still want to sail competitively (18 – 34). Match racing can fill that void very easily and inexpensively!
Where do you see 6ix Match Racing in the next 5 years?
Well, we want to be main stays on the grade 2 circuit in the next one to two years. I would have to say our major goal at this point is to gain the funds and access to the Marstrom 32 class catamaran. It’s the new boat of the World Matching Racing Tour and its awesome! Currently, we are looking to get licensed in the next year or so and then once that happens it all about fundraising from there on out. Nevertheless, by the end of the next 5 years, we are going to make it to the World Match Racing Tour.
What’s your advice for anyone looking to get involved with Match Racing?
Anybody can get into this! The rules are a bit different and the sailing is much more aggressive, but it’s not something that can’t be learned. In terms of places to learn and join in, RCYC is currently running a match racing night on Wednesday night’s for the rest of the sailing season. Both members and nonmembers are welcome to join in and learn!
6ix Match Racing composed of Brandon Townsend (left), Landon Gardner (center) and Alex Byzko (right) in their team gear supplied by Fogh Marine.