Canadian sailors' childhood dreams lead them to Pan Am Games

Less than a month ago, Allie Surrette and Max Flinn were sailing across Halifax Harbour, laughing as they reached speeds of nearly 40 km/h. On Saturday, the two childhood friends will be doing the same thing in South America, hoping to sail their way from Paracas Bay to the Tokyo Olympics.

Nova Scotia athletes can qualify Canadian spot at 2020 Olympic Games

Max Flinn, left, and Allie Surette, shown in this file photo, are in Peru competing at the Pan American Games in the NACRA 17 class. (Photo courtesy World Sailing)

LIMA, Peru — Less than a month ago, Allie Surrette and Max Flinn were sailing across Halifax Harbour, laughing as they reached speeds of nearly 40km/h. On Saturday, they'll be doing the same thing in South America, hoping to sail their way from Paracas Bay to the Tokyo Olympics.

The two 23-year-old Nova Scotians have grown up sailing together, and that journey has brought them to the Pan American Games, teamed up in the NACRA 17 class.

For those sailing newbies out there, the NACRA 17 is a hydrofoiling boat, meaning the hull of the boat is lifted completely out of the water by the hydrofoils as it picks up speed.

"It's also the only type of boat that is mixed gender in Olympic competition," Flinn says. "It's definitely special, it's a different dynamic, [and] we get along really, really well."

That aspect of the class opened up the possibility of the two childhood friends teaming up for a shot at the Olympic Games, which can happen with a positive result here in Peru.

But let's start at the beginning. Surette, from Head of Saint Margaret's Bay, N.S., and Flinn, of Chester, N.S., both came from sailing families and started in the sport when they were kindergarten-aged.

"My dad was a sailor, and his dad was also a sailor," Surette says. "As a baby, I was on the boat all the time and then I started sailing on my own when I was five years old.

"We live on the water in Nova Scotia."

Growing up, the two crossed paths frequently, sailing with and against one another from a young age, but they are relative newcomers to their current class of sailing.

"We started sailing the NACRA together just over a year ago, before that we did a bit of 49er just for fun," she says. "We have really grown up sailing together on the same team since we were eight years old."

'We want this dream so badly'

While she and Flinn have been sailing together for such a long period of time, Surette says they work constantly on improving their union.

"We've really worked hard on our partnership [and] work with our sports psychologist to figure out the best ways that work for us to communicate in the boat, and out, for our partnership," Surrette says. "The trust we have is key. We've known each other for so long, we're both great sailors and we want this dream so badly together."

Flinn, left, and Surette, have been sailing together most of their lives. Now they're trying to get to the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo courtesy Sail Canada)

Now that the two have been sailing together as partners for nearly two years, they've developed a reciprocal relationship.

"I think we mesh together really well. Her strengths compliment my weaknesses and vice versa," Flinn says. "She's much more organized than me; she's on the ball.

"We are always pushing each other, [but] just the way we go about situations, the way we deal with high-stress situations compliments each other a little bit. Sometimes when I'm stressed out about something she's got a pretty cool, organized, level head about it and sometimes when we need to push forward, I'm able to push the program forward."

Nothing may be more high-stress of a situation than the one they are facing here in Peru, with a spot at the Summer Games on the line.

How Lima can get them there

Two continental spots will be decided in Lima, one for North America and the other for South American teams.

For the Olympic qualifier part of Pan Ams, the Canadians will be competing against the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Bermuda.

If they beat these three boats, Surrette and Flinn will qualify Canada for a spot at the Games. 

If things don't go as planned for them, the Canadian pair still have another chance at the 2019 world championships, happening in December in Auckland, New Zealand where six spots will be up for grabs.

Another important point to note is that if successful, Surrette and Flinn would qualify a spot for Canada, but not automatically qualify themselves. That comes from results at Canadian qualifiers, which is a combination of two events — the 2020 worlds in Australia in February & the Princess Sofia regatta in April in Spain.

Flinn, left, and Surette, right, shown in this file photo, will begin competition at the Pan Am Games on Saturday. (Photo courtesy three six five media)

Surrette says all of these competitions are on their radar and attainable for them because of some major backing.

"One of the major reasons why we got to the Pan Ams is because of our community [and] our sponsors and donors," Surrette says. "Sailing is a pretty expensive sport and the boat that we sail is pretty expensive. We literally wouldn't have been able to do it without that support."

With the first two regattas of NACRA 17 beginning on Saturday morning, the team knows what's at stake and how much they've worked to get here.

"It really means everything to me. It's a pretty incredible experience that not many people get to have so I'm very lucky to be in this position," Surrette says. "Competing at a major games has been one of my goals and dreams for as long as I can remember.

"Having this opportunity is a dream come true."


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