December 4, 2013

20 Questions with Derek Pickell, #9333 2013 Junior Sabot National Champion

Derek, Congratulations on winning the 2013 Junior Sabot Nationals!

Pre Race:

1. What kind of sailing/training had you done in preparation for the 2013 Sabot Nationals?

I’ve been actively sailing Sabots since I was seven and had participated in five previous Sabot Nationals, so I had a lot of preparation heading into the 2013! In the year leading up to the event, I was a member of the Corona del Mar sailing team which gave me a lot of water time (in CFJs). I then continued sailing CFJs during the summer at BCYC while coaching novice Sabot sailors. I had a mid-program break during which time I was backpacking in Canada. When I returned, I put all my attention on Sabots in the weeks leading up to Sabot Nationals. I think the combination of years of Sabot experience together with time in other boats was a great preparation.

2. Who are the people and coaches that helped you prepare for the regatta?

I’ve had a lot of great Sabot coaches over the years. Leading up to 2013 Sabot Nationals, the individuals who had the biggest impact were Nate Dunham who was both my Sabot coach and high school coach, Cameron McClaren who was the head coach at BCYC, and Mark Gaudio who supported our team leading up to and during Nationals. 

3. How do you prepare yourself the day of a large regatta such as Nationals? Any Superstitions or rituals?

Luckily, I don’t have any rituals or superstitions since there’s enough stress with regattas without any extra worries! Basically, my focus was simply on the weather, water conditions, and the fleet.

4. What did you do to prepare your boat?

I was lucky to find 9333 when I was 9 and have worked hard to keep it in great shape ever since. My Sabots routine is pretty simple, I made sure everything was working properly, it was washed, sanded, and waxed, and tuned for the conditions.

5. What do you like about your Ullman Sail that led you to choosing it to help you win the Nationals?

I switched to Ullman sails about four years ago and have liked the sails ever since. The cut works for me and the conditions we see most often in Southern California.

6. How old are you now and how old were you when you started sailing?

I started sailing with my Dad in his Harbor 20 when I was 3 and then through the BCYC Summer program when I was 5. I’m 15 now.

7. What sailors do you look up to and admire?

I can’t say there’s a specific sailor I look up to, but I am in awe of sailors who compete in round the world races and similar tests of endurance and perseverance.

8. Do you sail any other types of boats?

Right now I’m focused on CFJs through high school and club sailing. I’m hoping to branch out into other boats soon, maybe a 29er.

9. When you are not on the water, what do you like to do?

I enjoy outdoor sports like skiing, mountain biking, and especially rock climbing.

The Race:

10. You were very consistent. In fact you were the only skipper in the gold fleet to have only one finish outside the top 10. Going into the last race, it was anybody’s regatta. Did you feel the pressure?

I absolutely felt the pressure -- especially this year since it was possibly my last Sabot Nationals. Like you said, no one was in first for more than one race so it all came down to the fine details. As the regatta progressed, I would say that my steady move up the ranks made me nervous more so than under pressure as the possibility on a top finish became a reality.

11. You were 11th in the flight selection Series, did you change anything to win the regatta?

I spent the flight selection series getting comfortable in my Sabot while sailing conservatively. My goal was to just get a decent finish while feeling out the conditions and the fleet. This was important because I hadn’t participated in a lot of Sabot regattas in 2013.
12. Tell is about the wind shifts and weather, Mission Bay can be a tricky place to sail.

The weather was particularly unusual for Mission Bay during nationals--more so like that of Newport—shifty and variable--all the better for me. In reality, I’ve been able to spend so much time in Mission Bay, Alamitos Bay, and Newport, I feel like a local in all three.

13. We know you can’t give away all of your speed secrets, but could you share just one with us? Tell us how to go fast…please?

For me, it's all about staying in phase and clean air, especially for this Nationals. Even if you got a bad start, you could catch up as long as you played the shifts and found a clean lane, while still maintaining a fairly conservative mindset- not banging a corner too hard or making any brash decisions.

14. What piece of equipment do you rely on most when racing?

Well, I guess there’s only one correct answer for this interview – my Ullman sail!

15. The points were very tight going into the last race. Did this play into your decisions or did you just sail your own race?

I tried my best to stick to my strategy--although this time I knew I had to keep a close eye, almost target, the people close to me. The fun part, if you can call it that, was that I felt like all of the years I’ve had in a Sabot and all of the regattas I’ve raced really led up to being able to sail this last race really well. Having a big regatta like this come down to the last race is great for the competitors and spectators.

Post Race:

16. How did it feel when you lifted the trophy knowing that you will be joining great names such as Jeff Lenhart, Earl Elms, and Bill Hardesty?

I’ve had good success in Sabots over time but didn’t perform to my expectations in a few previous Sabot Nationals. It was a really special opportunity to achieve what I did in the 2013 event and to join the ranks of some of the amazing sailors who had won this event previously. I’m lucky to sail in an area like SoCal where the sailing tradition is so rich.

17. What advice do you have for other young juniors out there who aspire to become Sabot Champions and more?

Like most sports, sailing success comes through desire, perseverance, and practice. The younger sailors who want it the most and are committed will generally perform well over time. The great thing about our area is that there are limitless opportunities to practice and get better. At the same time, I think it’s also important to mix things up a bit and not risk getting burned out. I tried other boats, other venues, and kept up my interests in other sports and activities.

18. What is the most important thing you learned during this regatta?

I think this event really showed that having a plan and executing on it is really important. I started kind of slow but I knew I could keep getting better and also knew the variable conditions would keep things wide open. I didn’t panic early on and kept focused. The fact that I had a game plan helped me keep things together.

19. What is the next big regatta for Derek Pickell?

Well right now I’m pretty focused on helping our CDM team achieve its potential. We have lots of key events still ahead as we make a big run this year. We have the talent to do really well this year.

20. What is the next class you are going to attack?

Beyond CFJs, I’m interested in the 29er and am looking at giving this class a try. I’d like to try some “big boat” sailing as well.