A 2011 graduate of Old Dominion University, Wisconsin native Stephanie Roble has leveraged a stint with the Chicago Match Racing Center to become the third-ranked women’s match racer in the world. She also recently turned pro, sailing aboard boats like the Melges 20 and J/70. In June, Roble and crew Janel Zarkowsky, Maggie Shea and Lara Dallman-Weisstook took third at the Women’s Match Racing World Championships in Ireland. Then in July they won the U.S. women’s match racing championship at the Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, New York. Later this month, Roble will once again take on the world’s best at the Buddy Melges Challenge in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We recently caught up with Roble to get the inside on what it’s been like to make a career as a sailor.
SAIL: How did you and your team get involved in match racing?
SR: We started in 2010 when match racing was an event in the 2012 Olympics. After making the semis at the 2016 Olympic trials, we lost to team Tunnicliffe. I continued to match race with my best friend and longtime teammate, Maggie Shea, in an assortment of events. We worked hard to develop a women’s team for the Women’s International Match Racing Series (WIM) as well as a core team we could use at open events, now known as Epic Racing (facebook.com/EpicMatchRacing). Maggie is an incredible teammate and sailor, and I am fortunate to have her in addition to my tactician Janel Zarkowsky and our newest addition, Lara Dallman-Weiss, a true ninja on the bow.
SAIL: You recently turned pro. What kind of sailing have you been doing?
SR: In a sense, it was kind of perfect timing, because small sport boats are on the rise, and I have been fortunate enough to become part of a Melges 20 (Team Wildman) and a J/70 (Rimette) program. These boats fit my physique, and I believe are the perfect stepping stones into professional sailing for college graduates. In addition, I’ve campaigned in the Etchells, which has helped drastically with my tuning knowledge and tactics/strategy.
SAIL: You’ve chosen to go into a profession dominated by men. What has it been like?
SR: I’ve always been a girl who loves to beat the boys, so I think I fit right in! Although there are some challenges, like size and strength in certain boats, all of the teams I have been on have respected me and been supportive of me becoming a professional. I think it’s all about finding boats and a specific role on a boat at which you can excel. As the minority in the sport you must put your foot down, take initiative and own up to all your decisions.
SAIL: What are your long- and short-term goals as a sailor?
SR: This year, a big goal is to win the WIM Series as well as develop my match race skills as a skipper and tactician. Another is to absorb as much information as possible to become a better pro sailor and teammate on all the boats I sail on. Long term, I would love to do some more catamaran sailing, like in the Extreme Sailing Series or maybe even an Olympic campaign in the Nacra 17. I am always keen for new opportunities, so we will see what the future brings.
SAIL: What inspired you to not just take up sailboat racing as a pastime, but make it a career?
SR: After college I was competing a lot as a Category 1 amateur, but my schedule started to get really full and it became hard to balance a full-time job and my desire to become a better sailor. I needed to take my sailing to the next level, and the only way to do that was to go pro. I am just fortunate to be able to continue doing what I love. It’s a bonus that it is my job as well.
SAIL: What advice would you give other women thinking of making competitive sailing a career?
SR: Go for it! If you want something enough you will jump through the hurdles to make it happen. Anything is achievable. Ask questions, be open to criticism, make friends in your fleet and above all have fun!
Photos courtesy of Women’s International Match Racing Series