In October 2017, Walker took up the baton from John Derbyshire, who has retired after 32 years’ involvement with the RYA, including 16 years in the Director of Racing role.
Walker has enjoyed an impressive and multi-faceted career in the sport, winning two Olympic silver medals in 1996 and 2000, as well as coaching Shirley Robertson, Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb to Yngling gold at Athens 2004.
Among a host of inshore and offshore racing successes, Walker has been involved with two America’s Cup campaigns prior to winning the 2014/15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Walker is passionate about supporting young people through the sport of sailing, acting as a trustee of the John Merricks Sailing Trust set up in memory of his 470 crew. As a father of two sailing daughters, Walker is adamant the sport should remain fun first and foremost.
As Director of Racing, Walker oversees the RYA’s World Class Programme and talent pathways, from grassroots racing to Olympic competition, as well as the broader remit of racing participation in all forms in the UK.
Since taking up the role, Walker has watched young sailors in action at the RYA Eric Twiname Youth and Junior Team Racing Championships, met clubs across the country at regional Affiliate conferences as well as joining the British Sailing Team on a visit to the Tokyo 2020 sailing venue.
How does it feel to be swapping life on the water for the helm of RYA Racing?
This will be a considerable change for me, having spent more than 25 years racing boats all over the world, and I admit I am suffering from a few nerves. I have an awful lot to live up to, and I am hoping that these nerves cannot be worse than the first race of the Olympic Games!
I would like to thank John Derbyshire for his amazing service to the RYA and sailing in the UK over the past 32 years. I must also thank him personally, not only for holding the reins much longer than he had anticipated, but also for making our handover as smooth as possible.
What does your role entail as Director of Racing?
Well there is certainly a lot to take on board. I oversee everything in the department, which spans Olympic sailing, the Youth and Junior pathway, technical and racing services, keelboat sailing, people development, operations, communications, marketing and sponsorship.
I will not even start to list the stakeholders that are involved! It will take me some time to get anywhere near John’s level of knowledge and expertise, and I could not have even contemplated this role if there had not been such a strong team in place to help me.
What are your plans for youth sailing and racing?
As a father of two teenage daughters who sail, and as an ex-RYA Youth Squad sailor (30 years ago), I am particularly interested in the development of young sailors.
The level of coaching and RYA support given to our young sailors today is extraordinary. While I believe winning is important and coaching is critical to improving performance, I also strongly believe sailing must remain fun.
This is crucial in the early, formative years but I think we sometimes lose sight of that at senior and club level too.
Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 and beyond, what do you think are the biggest challenges?
We have witnessed five Olympiads of unprecedented success for the British Sailing Team, fuelled by the help of the ever-increasing National Lottery funding, but the days of increasing funding are almost certainly over.
With lottery tickets falling and foreign competition increasing, the task of winning medals is only going to get harder.
Tough decisions will have to be made and we will have to innovate and adapt to be able to develop and support our potential medal-winning sailors. I have every confidence in our new Olympic Performance Manager, Mark Robinson, as we focus on Tokyo 2020.
How important is medal winning?
Winning medals is indeed crucial for maintaining current levels of support and inspiring the next generation of sailors, but it is not the only thing I am interested in.
As the backbone of sailing in the UK, we must also look after clubs and classes and, of course, our remarkable volunteers. Sailing as a sport has so much to offer to so many people if we can make it more affordable and accessible.
What are your plans for your own sailing?
I intend to put the fun back into my own sailing by racing at Warsash Sailing Club, and I hope to meet as many RYA members as possible at events in the coming year.
Please bear with me while I get to grips with my new role. I must also thank in advance all the hard-working staff at RYA House, who are going to have to work even harder in the next few months to help get me up to speed.
See you on the water!