KINGSTON, R.I. – May 4, 2009 – Robbie Kane said recently that sailing has taken over his life. He was featured in a Disney movie about sailing in 2008, and as a result he gets the star treatment at sailing races around the world. But as he prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 17, he’s looking forward to a long career in a very different discipline — landscape architecture.
“I came to URI because of the landscape architecture program and its location near Newport and the ocean so I could go sailing on the weekends,” said Kane, a native of Fairfield, Conn. “I was originally going to be an art major, but I also love the outdoors and hiking, so the idea of taking art and the outdoors and putting them together to create landscape designs was appealing to me.”
Kane’s passion for nature has developed into a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly landscape designs. The last project he completed for his URI degree focused on controlling water runoff in a coastal community through the use of “bioswales” to filter pollutants from the water before it reaches the ocean.
“The design studio at URI encourages collaboration between all of the students, which leads to a lot of great teamwork in designing our projects,” he said. “You can really feed off the talents of your fellow students and share ideas and styles.”
Kane points to two landscape architecture professors, Angelo Simeoni and Richard Sheridan, as being particularly important to his career direction.
“They have inspired me to consider becoming a professor; that’s how much I enjoy going to their classes,” Kane said. “They’ve become my mentors, and they’re really enthusiastic about the landscape architecture field.”
While the URI student is excited about his blossoming career as a landscape architect, he isn’t ready just yet to write off competitive sailing.
“I’m at a point where I have to choose between professional sailing and landscape architecture,” he said. “My plan is to sail for a few years, make some money and travel while I’m still young and single, and then go back to school and get my master’s degree, with the goal of one day teaching a landscape architecture studio class. The thought of teaching young, inspired people is important to me. You learn a trade, learn from your experiences, and pass it on to the younger generation. That’s how you make a bigger difference.”
Kane started sailing as a 10-year-old at the Black Rock Yacht Club in Bridgeport, Conn., and soon after found himself working on sailboats and racing them.
“As much of a racer as I am, I also think of myself as a boat builder,” he said. “We use the same state-of-the-art materials as the Air Force and NASA. In between racing, I’m always working on boats by making them faster, fixing them, building them. It’s important to be able to build and work on a boat when you’re in the middle of the ocean, because boats do break.”
Kane has traveled around the world to compete in major sailing races in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Caribbean and San Francisco.
“Racing is life at the extreme, where you’re just pushing the boat as hard as you can no matter what the elements are, pushing to make it go as far and as fast as possible,” he said. “It’s a personal challenge, too, because it pushes me. It’s a good way to see how hard I can push it and challenge myself. Some do it by climbing Mt. Everest; I do it by sailing across the oceans. It sometimes puts you in positions that are life threatening, but being able to cope with those situations can teach you about yourself and about life. I get on land after an ocean race, and the stuff that normally stresses me out is no longer a problem.”
One of Kane’s more memorable experiences came during the 2007 TransPac race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, which was filmed by a documentary film crew for the Disney movie Morning Light.
“I moved to Hawaii and got trained by some of the best professional sailors in the world for six months,” he said with enthusiasm. “That whole experience was pretty priceless.”
When the movie was released last fall, Kane went to Hollywood for the premiere screening, walked the red carpet, faced the paparazzi, and submitted to numerous interviews.
“That was the first time I saw the movie, and it was great. I’m very lucky to have been able to relive an experience that changed my life.”
After graduation from URI, Kane will compete in the TransPac race again, do some hiking and mountain biking in the San Francisco Bay area, and then prepare for a race in Australia. After that, his calendar is somewhat open, with the exception of his eventual return to landscape architecture.
“Being on the ocean is when my head is the clearest and I’m the happiest,” Kane concluded. “If I can spend as much time as possible on the ocean, then life is good.”