Nevin Snow has stood at the top of the US Match Racing Rankings (2017), was awarded the ‘Best Intercollegiate Sailor’ in 2015 and 2016, and just won the US Men’s Olympic 49er Trials with his teammate Dane Wilson in Geelong, Australia at the 2020 49er Worlds.
Hearing about the things Nevin thinks about, the way he processes racing, and the wisdom he has developed through his sailing career, there’s a lot for all of us to meditate on.
How’s the quarantine routine? I’ve been getting into a good routine. Every day is like a work day rather than a sailing day. 4-5 hours of work on the computer. 2 hours fitness. A little bit of reading, chilling. I’m taking a Harvard course on weather right now. You can audit it for free for the next two months, here. I’m trying to learn more about that right now.
Dane and I have been breaking stuff down We are putting a lot of ideas into words. We make a lot of gains when we’re away from the group. We make gains with the group, of course. But it often feels like the train is going forward whether or not you want to go with it.
When we’re by ourselves we can hone the things we need to. We’ve been hashing out where we feel weak on the racecourse. Like pushing the boat downwind in the breeze. Just like everyone in the 49er, I guess.
We are trying to unearth the roots of things we both want to do well. One thing I go back to in my head, if you want something as a teammate, you have to give something in order to get that. If I want Dane to tell me about the breeze, or get his feedback on the rig, I have to give him something.
I need to remember that we are both on each other’s team. We are always trying to get away from micromanaging but it leads to a state.
You and Dane are both chill guys on land. But on the water you both are an electric force – Where does that come from?
That shift for me takes place somewhere between sails up and when the boat goes in the water. I can rev the engine too hard in the matter of a minute. One aspect that I haven’t been sharing much but find it hard to tell people about, not that I’m embarrassed about it is that I’m thinking about sailing 100% of my day. To an unhealthy point.
It used to take me a long time to process a day of racing. Especially if it was a tough one. That chunk has been in my throat for a long time. Even worse if we have an off day. If i can’t go out the next day and prove to myself to do it better than it takes a while. In college sailing it took a whole summer to get over that last race at college nationals.
How do you manage to make that intensity productive for you?
Dane and I did this course with Michael Gervais and it gave us some good building blocks to talk about our mindset on the water. The thing that helped me digest sailing off the water is visualization. I’ve realized that at times I picture unhealthy things.
Like what? Visualizing the finish. Holding up the trophy. But never the mundane moments in the race, like two minutes of battling on the starting line. I’ve been falling back on that lately. Just visualizing the grind.
We were both relatively proud of our racing in Geelong. Proud of the grind.
In the clutch, you sailed so well. I mean, tactically, you’re really sharp – where’s that come from and how do you stay sharp? Besides just sailing a shit ton. One thing that has upped Dane and my game in the middle of the fleet, just a simple tool, just saying to each other where we are in the fleet at that point, “we’re top ten here” saying something like that can take the pressure off in the moment. “We’re 20th here, lets start grinding back.”
Younger sailors, less experienced sailors, less disciplined, you may be in 20th but maybe in your head you’ll be in the top 10, so you take more leverage, then you end up near layline and now your in 25th.
Can you point to a specific moment or race where you learned to harness that restraint?
I can think of times in college sailing where I learned that as an individual. There was a Gold fleet race in Auckland (2019 Worlds) we were in 4th and we were sailing as good as we ever had. There was a race we were 8 or 9 in it, we were having a hard time coming back to weather mark with a good lane, we were always pushed into 17, 18, 19 when we thought we should be in 11, 12.
One race, it was later in the day, we were tired and said to each other , “we’ve got to be prepared for a tough one.”
And it resonated with us. Having a shitty day, we are going to grind. We did the smart moves, no magical shift, we picked the right gate, we sailed, hard, kept looking at the compass, made a move of two, went from 19th to 14th and then pushed it downwind and we were 9th at the finish.
In Dane’s interview, he also spoke about focusing on the small gains. Do you think you learned that from your parents?
They are chill, but they don’t let themselves get to to high. They weren’t the type to throw a pizza parties for winning races as kids.
I call it one of my strengths that on a good day I can still learn. A bad day bothers me, but on the other hand I know I can get better.
What something that’s inspiring you lately?
In a way, Dane and I have been given a big opportunity with Olympics being postponed. Keeping that in our minds. We’re still obviously wrestling with the fact we may not have a spot. But having another year, we can up the ante on our goals.
We’ve got to push on the little things. It’s going to give us an opportunity to jump a flight a stairs. thinking about it that way has been making it easier.