Sanya 2017 was the first Youth Sailing World Championships appearance for Benn Smith, who credits his father, Atlanta 1996 Olympian Malcolm Smith, for inspiring his passion for the sport writes Will Ricketson from sailing.org.
"My dad got me into sailing, and then I did Optis and other classes before the Laser Radial," said Smith, 18, who noted that training on the beautiful island of Bermuda is not without its challenges.
"It's really hard to find training partners in Bermuda," said Smith, a current student at the College of Charleston in the United States. "I just go to as many events as I can, and I do a lot of training in Charleston. One of my university teammates, Stefano Peschiera, went to Rio 2016 in the Laser, and I try to sail against him as much as possible." Smith noted that it is occasionally difficult to balance his athletic and academic goals, "especially," noted Smith, "during exams."
Despite the training challenges, Smith noted that as is the case for many athletes in Sanya, the Youth Worlds regatta itself is a major learning opportunity. "The level of the fleet here is just so high that you're learning a lot every single race," said Smith. "You're sailing against the best in the world, and that can only help you as you try to improve."
Smith said a significant moment in his sailing career occurred when the America's Cup was hosted by Bermuda. "I really loved having the Cup in Bermuda. I had one of the coolest jobs, working on a course marshal boat. It was just really fun to be a part of it." Smith was an integral part of the team of experienced sailors charged with keeping the sizable spectator fleet in check as thousands of fans packed into Great Sound to watch the Cup.
While Smith didn't have much interaction with the America's Cup sailors himself, he said that he felt a certain kinship with them due to his own love of foiling. "I have a [foiling] Moth, and I just love the speed of it," said Smith. "Foiling feels like being on a cloud. It's just really different from the Laser, which is the boat class that my racing is focused on."
While his own sailing career is of great importance to Smith, he would also like to see the sport grow in Bermuda, and become more widely accessible. "We don't have enough people sailing in Bermuda, and getting the chance to try it," said Smith. "More support and funding going towards the Bermuda Sailing Association (BSA) would help people like me, and other Bermudians who want to sail. When they have been able, they've done great job of supporting me with grants, coaching and equipment. The more support they have, the better shape Bermudian sailing will be in."