There's no greater satisfaction for me than watching young sailors excel on the water and wondering where in sailing they will be later on in their lives. Will that smooth-tacking coed Club 420 team someday be leading A division at college nationals or that eager starter in the Optimist class sailing for medals and then joining the ranks of the America's Cup? It seems today, more than ever, competition at junior sailing events, at both the local club level and the national championships, is dramatically improved. This is because yacht clubs are committed to making junior sailing a priority. I see examples of this all around the country. Parents are willing to help with travel, there's advanced instruction and individual coaching, and standardized one-design boats, and this all bodes well for the future of American sailing.
For eight years we've kept a close eye on the junior sailing scene, each year calling out the sailors that put forward great results and uphold sportsmanship while doing so. There are literally hundreds of them out there, and of all the annual "lists" in which I'm involved my juniors are the toughest. This year more than 400 sailors, ages 13 to 17, made it into my initial watch list, and getting down to six All-Star finalists was not easy. Our Junior All-Stars are spread out geographically across the United States, and sail in a variety of boats, which tells me one thing: there's a lot of great young talent, everywhere.
Connor Brady, 16, from Hilton Head, S.C., is much more than a great dinghy sailor; he's building his skills and versatility by also crewing on J/105s and Harbor 20s at the South Carolina YC. "Every coach and every person I have sailed with has taught me something new," he says. "The most influential to me are my parents. All the way from Optimist Green Fleet, talking me into staying on the water when it was too windy, to driving me down to the West Coast of Florida every weekend to practice has been a big help. My mom and dad would do anything to give me the opportunity to sail."
Brady is a well-rounded sailor, and this comes from competing in a variety of boats. In 2008, for example, he won the Y Flyer Junior Nationals at the Atlanta YC. For someone used to the sea breezes off Hilton Head, this win on a tricky inland lake is impressive. His days in the Green Fleet are long gone, but not before becoming a member of the U.S. National Optimist Team. He placed second in the USODA Southeast Team Race Optimist Gold Fleet Championship, fourth in the Sarasota Youth Sailfest, was the South Atlantic YRA Youth Laser Champion, and is now collecting hardware at important 420 events as well. Looking toward to the future, Brady has the College of Charleston in his sights. Wherever Brady ends up, he will be a fantastic contributor.
Scott Houck, 16, from Annapolis, Md., is one of the hottest junior sailors on the East Coast. In 2008 he and crew, Jack Ortel, won the Club 420 Mid-Atlantic Champs, which is no small feat, placed first in B division in the Mallory Trophy, fifth in the Baker Trophy, and seventh at the Club 420 North Americans. Add to this a second in the 29er Mid-Atlantics and being named the Chesapeake YRA high-point skipper. And yes, he currently leads the Annapolis High School sailing team.
Houck is also a regular on keelboats, getting in his asymmetric sailing experience on a J/80, and learning the importance of tuning and sail controls on an Etchells. Understandably, the 29er is his favorite boat, and he's hoping the class will build a stronger presence in the Chesapeake. Houck also likes to windsurf and says it has helped him with different aspects of sailing, such as understanding the wind.
He plans on competing in college, and would like to race in long distance races like the Sydney-Hobart, Fastnet, and Volvo Ocean Race. One of his favorite experiences may have prepared him to deal with the unpredictable nature of offshore racing. "One time when Jack and I were sailing the 29er," he says. "We decided to sail toward the beach at the state park to show off to the bathers. As we were cruising toward the shore we suddenly hit bottom really hard. Jack flew off the wire, and around the shroud. It was a great wipeout, and I'm sure the people on the beach loved it."
Midwest sailor Stephanie Hudson, 17, from Winnetka, Ill., has been sailing since the age of six, and she has been competing for the past eight years in all sorts of boats, including a C Scow, Optimist, X Boat, and Club 420. Hudson and her family sail out of the Lake Beulah YC in Wisconsin and the Chicago YC. In 2008 she won the 83-boat 420 North Americans and finished 12th in the Silver Fleet at the International 420 Ladies World Championships in Greece. Strong finishes at youth events of this caliber do not come easy and early exposure to international sailing will be important later. Hudson attended the Worlds with Kayla McComb, but she sails with several different crews, including Laura McKenna and Gardner Yost.
Hudson credits coaches Evan Thompson and Pat Hitchens for getting her interested in doublehanded sailing. "They showed me the other side of competing-have fun, chill out, and don't freak out," she says.
In years past she says soccer helped her understand the importance of preparation, anticipation, and teamwork, but lately she's traded her time on the soccer pitch for practice time on the water. When asked if there was a disadvantage to regularly practicing in cold weather, she laughs. Sailors in the south, she says, are the ones missing out: "They don't get to have snowball fights on the water in the beginning of the spring."
In early November I spoke with Hudson when she and her mother drove home in a snowstorm following the Great Lakes High School Championship. The air temperature was 30 degrees and Stephanie had just won A division for her team at New Trier High School. Now that's dedication.
The natural transition out of 420s is into the Olympic 470, and this is an opportunity she is awaiting anxiously. "The 470s are so fast and maneuverable compared to the 420," she says. "They plane so easily and are amazing to sail in a breeze and flat water."
If there were a combination sailing and surfing All-Star list Kirk Korben, 14, of Long Beach, Calif., would be on it, too. His sailing achievements are numerous and his enthusiasm for wave riding carries over to his competitive sailing. "Ripping downwind in a dinghy in 30 knots of wind and being able to catch waves is the best," says Korben, who won the Bemis Trophy as a skipper in 2008, and was third in the CFJ Nationals. He currently sails a 29er, Club 420, Club Flying Junior, and an RS:X sailboard. Looking to the future, Korben has medal hopes. "Since I first stepped into a boat," he says, "I have dreamed of winning the Olympics."
Like many Southern California sailors Korben cut his teeth in the Sabot, and like many other talented SoCal juniors he lists 470 sailor Mike Anderson-Mitterling as an inspiration, along with coaches Sydney Bolger, Mac Mace, and the "hilarious" Andrea Savage.
Judge Ryan, 17, from San Diego, is one young sailor we will undoubtedly see a lot more of in the years ahead. I guarantee it. In 2008 he won the U.S. Youth Sailing Championship and placed second at the ISAF Youth World Champs in the 29er with crew Hans Hanken. Currently he is teamed up with past Junior All-Star Chris Segerblom in the Club 420. Judge also races an Etchells in the talent-laden San Diego fleet. "I like performance boats," says Ryan, "but the Etchells is a lot of fun, particularly against guys like Bill Hardesty [2008 Etchells world champ]." Like fellow All-Star Kirk Korben, Judge has surfing in his blood, and sees the parallels between these sports. "Fitness is a very important part of sailing," he says, as it is with surfing.
As idyllic as the surf life may be in Southern California, this sought-after junior champion knows that college sailing is strongest in the East, and he hopes to head to the right coast to attend college. "College sailing won't be my main focus," he says. "Instead, I hope to try for the Olympics. I think an Olympic Gold medal would be the ultimate achievement."
Judge credits his father for being the greatest influence on his sailing. "Without him I would not be as far along as I am today," he says. "He has done so much for me it is unreal."
Four years ago Will Stocke, 18, was watching his brother sail Optimists in their home waters of Sarasota, Fla. At the time, Stocke was playing golf and competing with a local swim team. "Sailing looked like fun," he says, "and my passion for sailing began." His climb to the top of the junior scene was fast, and in 2008 he skippered the winning boat in the Sears Cup. I doubt any previous winners of the Sears Cup have had such a short time to polish their skills. Stock's regular crewmates include Max Famiglietti and Matt Dowd.
He's still a member of the Sarasota High School golf team, and should he continue to excel in both sports, he'll be following in the footsteps of another champion sailor, Russell Coutts. He also shows signs of great leadership.
"After one year of club sailing in a 420 I helped the Sarasota Youth Sailing Program to develop a high school sailing team," he says. Two years after forming the team, they attended the Interscholastic Sailing Association High School Nationals. He also crews on keelboats, including a Melges 24, J/109, and a J/24.
Honorable mentions: Luke Adams, Cam Cullman, Nathan Fast, Andy Gunkler, Anne Haeger, Hans Henken, Luke Lawrence, Grace Lucas, E.J. O'Mara, Caleb Paine, Alex Ramos, Chris Segerblom, Kaye Siemers, Brady Stagg, and Dylan Vogel.