At age 13, Gavin Parker found himself walking the same grounds as his heroes, literally following their footsteps through the Oracle team compound at the 35th Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Bermuda.
Parker was one of a few lucky sailors selected to represent the United States in the O’Pen Bic AC Endeavour event. He competed against 32 youth sailors from all over the world and was featured as the half time show during race 1 and 2 of the finals alongside team Oracle and team Emirates New Zealand.
“Two years ago (upon learning about the opportunity), I set my goals high. It was my dream to race O’pen Bics in Bermuda during the America’s Cup Event. Hard work and dedication finally paid off,” he says.
For a 13 year old, Parker’s resume is impressive; his first sailing experience was on his father’s J-105 before he could form a full sentence. From then on he was hooked. He pursued a career in single-handed dinghies and since then Gavin has won a number of awards, including a first place finish at the Sunfish midwinters. His titles in the O’Pen Bic class include a close second place finish at last year’s North American championship and a gold medal finish at the Junior Olympics. He placed 12th at the AC Endeavor event.
Parker arrived in Bermuda and set up camp, all of the competitors stayed together in Mecina House where they quickly bonded. “Living with all the competitors for the week was great, they were all really nice and everyone spoke English so I could communicate with everyone. It was a really impressive group.” Says Parker of his competitors. While there was close points spread on the water, there was even closer cot arrangements at the O’Pen Bic compound. Parker could not imagine a more fun way to spend the week racing.
Nevin Sayre, a five-time U.S. National Windsurfing Champion and four time college sailing All-American, is the head spokesperson for the O’Pen Bic class. Sayre has a way with the racers, while he knows the value of competition, but he preaches that it is not the only thing. He encourages racers in the program to form friendships on and off the water. The admiration that the O’Pen Bic racers have for Nevin is clear, “Nevin was a big part of the event, made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.” Parker says of their leader, “He was always in a good mood, and never stressed. He made it way more fun than most people could.”
O’Pen bic sailors spent their days on the water racing each other while Oracle and Emirates practiced close by on the Great Sound. Parker said it was exhilarating to sail in such close proximity to the high tech foiling catamarans. When touring the race village, Parker and his fellow O’Pen Bic sailors got to witness just how much work goes into making an event like the America’s Cup happen, “the technology was amazing, but also how much planning went into everything.”
Even though they range between the ages of 10 and 15, Parker and his competitors are some of the fiercest sailors globally. The O’Pen Bic is a new-generation skiff, designed specifically for youth sailors and boasts one of the fastest growing classes in the world. Parker could not speak highly enough of all of the kids involved in the Endeavour Program, “All the other kids were super fair, it was really cool, the event was probably the fairest competition I’ve ever been a part of.”
The O’Pen Bic Endeavor regatta followed the format of an un-regatta, an atypical racing style intrinsic to the class. During the regatta youth sailors were asked to sail a variety of courses where they were confronted with challenges such as keeling their boat over to go under an inflatable obstacle, reaching starts, flipping their boat on a leg, and doing a certain number of 360 turns throughout the race.
The Endeavour program puts forth one effort to benefit the community in each America’s Cup location. The boats that the O’Pen Bic sailors raced have been donated to local STEM education programs in Bermuda. The program has an amazing trickle-down effect of good for the sailing community. Not only did Parker and his competitors get the opportunity to get up close with their athletic heroes, but they also set an example for other youth sailors and inspired other young kids to get involved with the sport. Parker was thrilled to meet some of the people he aspires to be more like, “we got to meet some of the Red Bull sailors and an America’s Cup rigger. They said to start foiling as young as you can, keep sailing and do your best.”
At the end of the event all of the sailors and their families gathered for an awards ceremony and dinner together. Parker looks forward to racing the summer series in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and keeping up with the success of his new friends all over the world.