The British Virgin Islands’ DonTae Hodge was a bit skeptical when his mother talked him into to trying a sailing class. But today, the accomplished junior sailor is glad she did.
“It was about four years ago when I took a basic KATS (Kids and the Sea) class,” says DonTae. “I loved it and have never turned my back on sailing since.”
The Hodges, he says, “grew up around the water, but we never really had an interest in sailboats. It was powerboats my family loved. But, I’ve come around and changed this and maybe even changed this for the next generation of my family.”
What made this 15-year-old stick with sailing was the thrill of being able to control the boat all by himself and by using only Mother Nature. “When I started, I was amazed. Sailing gave me such a rush that from that point I always needed to be on the water.”
Today, DonTae’s adrenalin rush comes through competition.
“I like both racing and cruising. They’re very similar in some ways, yet very different in others,” he explains. “When you race in a regatta, you have a lot of fun. But when you touch that water you don’t have friends until you’re back on land. You have to be zoned in and you have to be serious or else your coach will be on your case forever. With cruising it’s always a fun environment. It’s less stressed, but it’s also still a learning environment that can help you with racing.”
DonTae started sailing Optimist dinghies. His first major regatta was the 2006 Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta in St. Thomas. “This regatta was very hard for me because I was relatively new to the Optimist. I didn’t know that much about the boat and I was sailing against sailors that had years of training while I had only been sailing for two years. This regatta pushed me to train harder. It also made me prove to everyone that the years of experience these other good sailors had wasn’t everything because I was able to learn what they had too and get right up there with them.”
Over the past two years, and beyond both U.S. and British Virgin Islands, DonTae has traveled to sail in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Curacao.
“Travel to Mexico (2007 Optimist North American Championships) was my favorite,” he says. “The people were nice, the hotel was nice, conditions were nice and all these make it a trip I will never forget.”
Windy weather made conditions challenging at the 2008 Optimist North American Championships in Curacao, says DonTae. “All the experiences helped me to recognize that it’s not just about performing well at home, but also going out in the world and performing with the best of the best.”
In addition to Optimist, DonTae’ has sailed Hobie Cats, large cruising yachts, lasers, 420s and IC24s. It was aboard an IC24 that he enjoyed one of his biggest sailing highlights to date.
“Last year, for the Bitter End Pro Am Regatta, the BVI Youth IC24 team was invited to participate and race against the pros,” he says. “Our team was made up of Alec Anderson, Elsa Myers, James Woods, Sam Woods, our coach Chris Watters and myself.” The first day’s racecourse traced from North Sound (Virgin Gorda) to The Baths and back.
“On the first beat of the first leg, we were in the top three positions, beating most of the pros including Peter Holmberg,” DonTae relates. “That was until he showed off his pro skills and pulled a jibe close to the rocks while everyone was going deep around the rocks. He cut off the whole fleet and the first leg was his. We ended up in fourth, but the day wasn’t over yet.”
Lunch at the Baths prefaced a team meeting Watters called with the kids to work out the kinks.
“We started the second leg like pros and won the start,” DonTae says. “Ben Ainslie and Peter Holmberg didn’t do their best on this leg, so they were pushed back. We finished in second, and when points were tallied, we finished first overall. This felt great. The pros saw our talent and we were noticed. After that, we all felt we could easily get in contact with some of the best sailors in the world because we proved ourselves and didn’t give up.”
DonTae ages out of Optimist this year. “The next step for me is the Laser,” he says. “I love this boat because of its speed and shape.”
When DonTae isn’t sailing, he takes piano lessons, plays basketball, cruises on his low-rider bike, and studies in his junior year of high school.
In the future, though, he aspires to compete in the Olympics and perhaps become a professional sailor. His advice to younger sailors who may want to follow in his wake is this: “When you first start sailing, it doesn’t have to be about completion. Have fun with it. Don’t worry about the kids that have more sailing experience and are sailing better than you. Just do your best and your time will come.”