Unfortunately, with the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many of us are sitting at home dreaming up our next vacation. While Paris, the Bahamas or Hawaii may be top of mind when we escape from quarantine, a yacht week right in our own backyards should be at the top of this list as well.
What started out as a small event has spread throughout Texas as one of the most anticipated events of the summer. And Austin Yacht Week was created by none other than a Black man, of course: Donald Boone. Held annually in August, attendees hit up Travis Lake for a day full of floating, swimming and hanging with friends — yacht week style.
The North Carolina A&T graduate wanted to bring a more accessible, affordable yacht week experience to “us” and make it a whole lot bigger and Blacker. In this interview with ESSENCE, Boone explains why he created Austin Yacht Week, and what we can expect in its 5th year.
What made you decide to bring the Yacht Week experience to the U.S.?
It honestly all started when I was fresh out of college. I remember Yacht Week Croatia blowing up and looking like the type of experience I wanted me and my friends to have. But after a quick Kayak flight search, I got my feelings hurt when I realized I wasn’t close to having Croatia money. But when I looked closer, I noticed that the Croatia experience really was never really intended for “us”, or built with us in mind, so I wanted to change that.
What happens exactly?
The intent for AYW has always been to create an environment that feels like a spring break trip for working adults. After college, responsibilities start piling up and we seldom get the opportunity to let loose again. So a lot of what we do during the weekend is geared toward helping people do just that.
We start by welcoming people to Austin with a kickoff event on Friday, with Saturday serving as the main event. That Saturday morning, everyone shows up with their rafts, boards the boat, and we have one big toast to kick off the event. For the next four hours we drink and party out in the middle of the lake. We then get everyone together for a night out in Austin on Saturday night, followed by a Sunday brunch before people head out of town later that day.
What makes Austin Yacht Week different, outside of its geographic location?
For starters, it’s a lot blacker! One of the things we’ve always tried to accomplish is making it as diverse as possible. Last year we had attendees from 22 states and 65 cities, and this year we’re expecting more than 300 people. Having graduated from North Carolina A&T, a lot of the early supporters were A&T alum, or graduates from other HBCUs. When you couple that with the attendees that are local to Texas, you end up with a really diverse set of people and backgrounds that make for a pretty unique experience.
At the time of its inception, I lived in Houston, but Austin was always one of my favorite cities in the country, with one of my favorite bodies of water in Lake Travis located right outside of city limits. So I decided to invite a small group of friends from my job and hometown to visit Austin in an effort to create the Croatia experience right here in the United States. Five years later, here we are.
What were some of the challenges you faced with the inaugural Austin Yacht Week sailing in 2016, that have made it better for the 5th year?
Definitely the customer experience. In the first year, it was just an experiment and the vision surely wasn’t as aspirational as it is now. People paid via Venmo so it felt a lot like any other gathering of friends. Since then, we’ve really obsessed over making sure people have the best experience possible, from registration, experiencing Austin, and the boat party itself.
What are your plans to expand Austin Yacht Week?
Expansion is definitely something I’ve thought about. There are a lot of things that make Austin unique and perfect for something like this. But there are obviously other lakes and bodies of water throughout the country and world where an Austin Yacht Week experience can work. So I can certainly imagine an AYW tour throughout the US and world, similar to what Grits & Biscuits has done. For now though, my goal is to get bigger in Austin and get more of the city involved.
What do you have to say to skeptics who don’t think the experience will be the same?
We set out to build Yacht Week Croatia in Austin and ended up building something completely different. So if it’s not one of the best parties you’ve ever been to, I’ll personally give you your money back!