kids these days
On our first day of practice, as our boat started to settle in upwind, I watched as our 16 year old skipper settled on the gunwale, held the tiller just so, sat up straight, put his legs close together, and tilted his head in to perfectly eye the telltales and horizon. He was calm and quiet, heard what was happening on the boat and on the water, but always stayed in tune with the feel. In the teenager’s world of texting and Facebook, this guy was remarkable.
The locals of Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands, have long had the idea that their youth are an integral part of sustaining and expanding sailing. For the past 20 years, the RBVIYC has supported a program called KATS (Kids and the Sea).
Don Tae’ started sailing at the age of 12 when his mom pushed him to go. Don Tae said he was “not really too excited about it but after the first day I became in love with the sport of sailing.” And so it goes. Don Tae’s mentor was Alec Anderson, who is now sailing for a university in Rhode Island.
The program owns a fleet of boats and works to help kids from all walks of life to embrace the sea that surrounds them. Before they can get into any boat, they have to pass a rigorous swim test and then, just like the kids in the US, they are pushed off in Optis. From there, if racing takes hold, the KATS administrators find sponsors and send them racing.
In just 4 years, Don Tae’ has already competed in Mexico, Curacao, Florida and recently at the Club Nautico International Regatta in Puerto Rico where he was 2nd overall in the Laser 4.7. In a few weeks he’ll be skippering the IC24 once again, but this time with kids his own age in an inter-island regatta.
A senior now, Don Tae’ Hodge is looking to what’s next. He’s close to the top of his game now, and wants to keep on pushing. He’s got sailing college and eventually the Olympics in his sights. Seems like the folks in Tortola get it and will do what it takes to get him there. –Paige Brooks.
Regatta Photos from Alistair Abrehart & Don Tae’ shot from Jorge de Souza