Boats should be fun; the ones that are have longer lifespans. Take the Olson 30, for example. It’s a lightweight ocean racer that leapt onto the scene 35 years ago, and it's still popular among sailors today.

The Olson 30 isn't just fun, it's fast, too.

The Olson 30 isn't just fun, it's fast, too, with lines drawn by a West Coast surfer.


George Olson was a surfer, sailor, and accidental yacht designer who went on to create some notoriously fast sailing hulls. One of his most renowned designs was the Olson 30, a boat he got the idea for during the 1977 Transpacific Race while racing from California to Hawaii.

The first Olson 30 was launched in 1978 and christened Pacific High. She went on to win many Santa Cruz races. With a few tweaks, such as reduced draft, increased freeboard, and the addition of a barebones interior, the Olson 30 and a boatbuilding company called Pacific Yachts were born.

But don’t let the decades fool you. The Olson 30 is a thoroughly modern design with a deep fin keel, spade rudder, and a balsa-cored hull. The double-spreader rig carries nearly 400 square feet of sail area, and that doesn’t count the 800-square-foot spinnaker. The Olson 30 developed a reputation over the decades for being a demon downwind surfing machine. That kept them showing up on podiums, as they racked up win after win.

The no-frills design has a spacious cockpit that works well for a full crew. The interior can be cruised for a weekend, although most owners who race Olson 30s in a one-design fleet like to keep the interior light.

With regional racing fleets all around the country and a healthy owners’ association, the Olson 30 still enjoys a following. Although 255 hulls were built between 1978 and 1984, the highest hull number now reported on the water is #246. Pacific Yachts closed its doors in 1987 and George Olson went on to design amusement park sets for the likes of Disney and others. Many however, will agree that his most successful fun ride was this enduring design that still brings joy to to many who step aboard.

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