Sixteen-year-old Antilles School sophomore Max Nickbarg is heading to California this summer, but but not in search of the perfect wave.
The St. John resident will be racing in a slew of regattas in the Golden State, where last summer he finished as the top junior — and second overall — in the Pacific Coast Championship.
This summer will first find Nickbarg returning to San Francisco Bay for the U.S. Youth Championship, on waters he clearly remembers from last year.
“It was so windy there last summer,” said Nickbarg. “The first day was 25 knots and the second day was blowing like 30 knots. A bunch of the full-rig racers dropped down to the radial class because it was so windy.”
“Then they stuck us in the lee of Treasure Island for the last days, but I held on to second,” he continued. “I guess heavy wind is my best condition, so I should do pretty well again.”
From San Francisco, Nickbarg will head south to Balboa where he will team up with fellow V.I. sailors Tyler Rice and Taylor Canfield for the 42nd Governor’s Cup regatta in late July.
The invitation-only match racing event — considered one of the most prestigious junior sailing events in the world — will pit Nickbarg, Rice and Canfield against the best junior racing teams from across the globe, each on an Alan Andrews-designed Governor’s Cup-21 keel boat.
After racing in Orange County, Nickbarg will return to the Bay area for the North American Laser Championship in San Francisco and the Pacific Coast Championship in Monterrey.
The teenager will wrap up his California summer at the U.S. National Championship in Long Beach. Traveling alongside Nickbarg will be his coach, former U.S. Men’s Laser racer Ryan Minth.
“I’ll work with him all summer,” Nickbarg said about his stateside-based coach Minth. “He came down last summer and trained with me and he’ll meet me at all the regattas this year.”
Before embarking out west, however, Nickbarg will hoist his sails at the Gulf Coast Championship in Fort Meyers, Florida, in April, continue racing 420s with his Antilles sailing team and work to maintain his 4.0 grade point average.
The busy sophomore hasn’t had a quiet winter either. He just returned from the Laser Midwinter’s East in Clearwater, Florida, which attracted sailors from 11 countries.
While Nickbarg finished 13 out of a total of 98 sailors, he could have finished even higher, had the wind held out.
“The first two days were the qualifying races and then we had a day of racing,” said Nickbarg. “The third day, which was only the second day of racing, there was a thunderstorm and they didn’t let us go out. Then on the fourth day there was no wind.”
“We were just sitting out there and they finally started us about three or four hours later,” he continued. “I was rounding the mark in seventh place when they called the race off.”
While Nickbarg and a few Antilles teammates were in Florida, the rest of the team secured a qualifying berth in the fleet racing Mallory Cup regatta.
“We qualified for the Caribbean for the Mallory Cup,” said the sailor. “In the beginning of April we’ll go back to Jacksonville, Florida, for the South Atlantic qualifying district and then to the Mallory Championship in Annapolis, Maryland.”
The Antilles sailing team is also hoping to qualify for the Baker Trophy this year, Nickbarg explained.
“Then at the end of April we’ll go back to Florida to St. Petersburg, for the South Atlantic Team Racing qualifier for the Baker Trophy,” he said. “We have to qualify there to go to Minnetonka, Minnesota, for the Baker Championships.”
Preparing for all of these regattas means most afternoons Nickbarg finds himself on the water off-shore the St. Thomas Yacht Club, where he first started sailing at the age of 10.
“I started sailing during a summer camp at the St. Thomas Yacht Club when I was 10,” said Nickbarg. “We have high school team training for 420s three days a week and on the weekends and pretty much every other day I sail on my laser at the yacht club on St. Thomas.”
Since his first introduction to the waves fishing with his father, Nickbarg has loved the sea.
“I was born here and I’ve always loved the water,” said the sailor. “My dad goes fishing a lot and he used to take me with him. When I started sailing, I guess I showed some talent and I just kept going.”
His strong competitive edge is one thing that keeps the teenage sailor on the water almost seven days a week, Nickbarg explained.
“I like the competition and being out on the water and racing all day,” he said. “You start to meet people and then see them at all the regattas. It’s a lot of fun.”
Keeping to his busy schedule isn’t difficult for Nickbarg, however, who cited practice as the most important way for young racers to improve.
“I think the most important thing is to have time on the water and practice as much as you can,” he said.
Nickbarg definitely listens to his own advice, which means the sailing community can expect great things from this young skipper.