Alumnus Willie McBride Makes a Bid for 2016 Olympic Team

Willie McBride graduated in 2012 with Outstanding Achievement as a Geography Major (awarded to students graduating with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher), and his quest for outstanding achievements continues – he’s now in training with a friend, Dane Wilson, to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team of the 49er Skiff. “The 49er’s name comes from its hull length of 4.99 meters. It incorporates ideas developed in Julian Bethwaite’s 18ft Skiffs, notably the Prime Computer series of boats, which were double handers. The 49er made its first Olympic appearance at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and has continued to grow in popularity ever since” (Wikipedia: 49er (dinghy)).

According to an article in, “The 49er is challenging to even the most seasoned sailor, incorporating aspects of elite level fitness and split second decision making at high speeds. Developed in New Zealand, the 49er is known as a “skiff” because it planes over the surface of the water. The 14-foot hull is nearly overwhelmed with sail area and can reach speeds of 25 knots or more. McBride Wilson is comprised of Dane Wilson (19) and Willie McBride (23). The young duo have gathered a serious following, not just because their training videos have gone viral within the global competitive sailing community, but because of their goals surrounding their Olympic dream. Both athletes have had a lifelong love affair with the ocean and are on a mission to share that experience with others. Their plans are to compete for an Olympic medal, and through the process of training, coaching, and competing, they are endeavoring to establish an Olympic training center right here in Santa Barbara.”

McBride loved the challenge of building things as a Geography major at UCSB as well. In 2011, Willie became an assistant to postdoctoral student Tom Pingel (PhD 2010) who was involved with Professor Keith Clarke’s “Automation and Visualization in Geographic Immersive Virtual Environments” project which involved using a mylar balloon to carry a Motorola Droid aloft to obtain aerial imagery and data (see the June 29, 2011 article, “True Orthovideo for Geographic Immersive Virtual Environments”). As an undergraduate, Willie also extended his creative approach to learning by demonstrating balloon aerial photography to students at Mountain view Elementary school during the 2011 Geography Awareness Week.

McBride’s commitment to outreach remains unabated. Regarding the McBride Wilson bid for the Olympics, he comments: We love the ocean. We love sailing, competing, and going fast, but we also love building things, so we decided if we were going to compete for an Olympic medal we should seize the opportunity to create a pathway for others to do the same. We want kids who have never sailed before to be able to step into a program, where from day one, everything they do is part of a formulated system to develop the skills that they will need if they aspire to compete at the top level of the sport (Edhat, Ibid.).

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Geography graduate student Kitty Currier for bringing this material to our attention.

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Schematic of an Olympic class 49er (Wikipedia, Ibid.)

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Willie and Tom Pingel filling their homemade Mylar balloon with helium for a test flight (from the June 29 2011 Geography News article; photo credit: Bill Norrington)

Image 3 for article titled "Alumnus Willie McBride Makes a Bid for 2016 Olympic Team"
A GoPro camera suspended from a bunch of party balloons caught these students at Mountain View Elementary pointing north as UCSB Geography senior Willie McBride demonstrated balloon aerial photography.

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McBride Wilson in training. From the Edhat article (photo credit: John Kelsey Photography)