Jobson All-Star Juniors 2024: The Fast Generation

With this year’s talent rising to top of international and domestic classes, American sailing’s future is in good hands.
2023 Jobson Junior All-Stars
Asher Beck, Audrey Foley, Bryce Huntoon (top L-R) Cody Roe, Freddie Parkin, Jaxon Hottinger (middle L-R) Makani Andrews, Brooke Mertz, Noelani Velasco (bottom L-R) Illustrations by Chris Malbon

I am amazed at the impressive talent of so many young sailors across the American sailing landscape today. Since 2001, when I originated the Junior All-Star concept, I have written about more than 150 dedicated young sailors who have demonstrated excellence on racecourses across the country. Almost every one of them has continued in their sailing careers and become leaders in the sport­—respected professionals and amateurs alike. 

In scouring the results of junior regattas and speaking with coaches and mentors to finalize this year’s All-Star squad, I sense the emergence of a highly groomed generation of talent from top-level programs and clubs. It is heartening to see so many of them committed to achieving their goals at such early stages of their young sailing lives.

The most difficult part of this All-Star project is finalizing the list; I know that there are many others working equally hard to reach their own personal milestones. However, in finalizing this year’s All-Star squad, I am inspired by their dedication to practice routines and aspirations. Meet the 2024 Jobson All-Star Juniors—the present and rising stars of our sport.

Makani Andrews and his crew, Noelani Velasco, Bryce Huntoon and Jaxon Hottinger, from Hawaii’s Kaneohe YC, have now won US Sailing’s Chubb US Youth Triplehanded Championship for the Sears Cup two years in row. Andrews also won the US Youth Championship in the iQFoil class as well as the Under-19 division of the 2023 Long Beach Olympic Classes Regatta. He traveled to Lake Garda, Italy, as well and raced against more than 400 competitors in the iQFoil division—his first top-10 race result on the international stage.

“Getting a seventh in the marathon race with all 422 ­competitors racing at the same time was incredible,” Andrews says. “It was ­disappointing to miss the top 10 after getting an OCS the last race, but this has inspired me to work my hardest and shoot for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.”

When asked how important it was to sail with the same crew in the Sears Cup, Andrews says that they were able to learn together from all their past and varied experiences. “We have gotten to know our specific roles and strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “We are also close friends.”

Huntoon says that the crew raced in the 2021 Sears Cup and finished fifth in their first appearance. “It happened to be the 100th edition of the event,” he says. “I really got a feel for how important and historical the event is.”

Huntoon’s primary race boat, however, is his ­foiling Waszp. “In Hawaii, we do not have Optimists,” he says. “The 29er is the first boat I’ve ever owned, but I have raced a few other keelboats—Solings, Melges 24s and J/80s.”

Looking to the future, Huntoon says that his life goal is to “make a living out of racing sailboats, and the Youth America’s Cup is the launching pad to achieve this.”

Huntoon and Andrews’ teammate Jaxon Hottinger likes racing the ILCA 7 because “the boat keeps me physically fit and improves my tactics.” He also races a 29er locally, and crews on a variety of keelboats and high-performance catamarans in Hawaii.

When asked how the team was able to win the Sears Cup two years in a row, Hottinger says: “Hard work and not letting tough situations affect us. We have great communication and know each other very well. Keeping a clear and calm mind under pressure is how we ultimately prevail.”

Velasco, 17, the only female member of the winning Sears Cup crew, says, “I personally prefer crewing over skippering because I always liked the labor-intensive jobs that crewing offered, like trimming the spinnaker and jib.”

Velasco says that the good chemistry of her Sears Cup team is their friendships, “developed while bowling, playing other watersports, hanging out, and learning to rock-climb together.”

All four sailors credit their coach, Jesse Andrews, the sailing director at Kaneohe, for developing a strong sense of discipline and character off the water.

Audrey Foley won the Leiter Trophy for the 2023 US Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship. She was also the top female sailor at the 2023 ILCA 6 US Youth Championship, finished 10th at the ILCA 6 World Championship in Morocco this past October, and qualified for the 2023 Youth World Sailing Championships in Buzios, Brazil, in December.

“From start to finish, each race is determined by my decisions,” Foley says of her preference for singlehanded sailing. “I have ­complete control over what happens. It pushes me to my limits and encourages me to keep testing them.”

Foley has raced many different boats, beginning with the Optimist when she was 6, and has since competed in ILCAs, Snipes, i420s, C420s and J/70s. Foley is well-traveled, having raced Optimists in more than 30 countries. She currently attends school in England, where she’s expanded her portfolio to include the Firefly dinghy and the SB20 sportboat. For fun, she says, she’s developing her ­foiling skills on the Waszp.

Foley says that she received inspiration from an Olympic champion at a young age. “As a ­7-year-old Opti sailor, I had the pleasure of meeting [Laser Radial Olympic gold medalist] Anna Tunnicliffe-Tobias and hearing her speak. Since then, she has inspired my passion for sailing and pursuit of ILCAs. My current coaches, Erik Bowers and Sophie Reineke, have helped me reach a higher level. Erika Reineke and Mauricio Galarce have also been ­outstanding role models.”

Seventeen-year-old teammates Freddie Parkin and Asher Beck, who sail out of Connecticut’s Riverside YC, won the 2023 US Youth Championship in the International 420, which qualified the pair to race at the upcoming Youth World Sailing Championships in Brazil. As the reigning world champions, Parkin and Beck also won the 2023 Club 420 National Championship in Chicago this past summer. When it comes to racing domestic regattas versus international championships, Parkin says, the size and depth of the field is far greater in big international events. “The i420 World Championship had around 120 entries in the Open Division,” he says. “The top 20 are very good, so you need to be fast in all ­conditions, and any mistakes get seriously punished.”

Because they race both Club 420s and i420s, I asked about the differences between the boats. Parkin explained that the i420 is more technical and responsive. Beck’s assessment is that the i420 is ­significantly faster. “It can be tuned far more precisely than the C420,” Beck says. 

Both young men credit their coach, Steve Keen, for their improvement over the past few years, but Beck says that he’s always looked up to Olympic 470 skipper Stu McNay, who once coached them at a clinic in Rhode Island. Parkin’s older brother, Jack, won the Youth Worlds as a crew in 2016, and the younger Parkin credits his parents, Barry and Susie, for helping him. Both were Olympic sailors ­representing Great Britain.

Skipper Cody Roe, 16, and his crew, Brooke Mertz, 16, who sail out of Florida’s Lauderdale YC, won the 2023 US Youth Championship in the Nacra 15 class. Roe also won the Nacra 15 World Championship with crew KJ Hill, while Mertz finished fourth racing with her brother, Conner. 

When asked about their practice routine, Mertz says: “As much as possible. Our normal practice is every Saturday and Sunday. We get out there at 9 and leave anywhere from around 4 to 6. On-land workouts and strength training are also important. The Nacra 15 is a complex boat and has more controls than many other boats. It’s also different in foiling versus nonfoiling setups. In foiling boats, we adjust the rake of the daggerboards in addition to everything else. We spend a lot of time making sure everything is tuned to both our weight and the ­conditions we are sailing in.”

Roe sails at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in 420s and Flying Juniors, and credits several who have been helpful mentors: “My dad has gotten me where I am today,” he says. “He has helped and supported me my entire career and has pushed me to be a better sailor.”

His two Opti coaches, Arthur Blodget and Pilo Rocha, have been key mentors as well, and John Casey is his current Nacra 15 coach. “Without him, none of my Nacra achievements would have happened,” Roe says. “The sailors at Lauderdale Yacht Club are all very good and help push me to be better.”

Mertz says that she had to work to improve and credits her sailing friend Wylder Smith for his ­guidance. “Self-confidence has always been one of my greatest weaknesses,” she says, “and Wylder helped me a lot with this. If I would talk down to myself, he would talk sense into me on how to stop thinking so negatively.”

Long term, Mertz says that she just wants to get better. For Roe, the future is loftier: “My long-term goal is to make it to the Olympics.”

Jobson Junior All-Star Honorable Mentions: Gavin Ball, Travis Greenberg, Laura Hamilton, Andrew Lamm, Tyler Lamm, Wylder Smith, William Whidden and Caroline Zager