Some kids just have a natural talent for sailing. This is one reason for Puerto Rico’s Raul Rios’ rise on the junior sailing scene. But it’s just one. The other is Raul himself. This astute young man has, and continues to, work hard learning just what it means to sail smart.
Raul, or Raul Andres, as his family calls him, grew up spending a lot of time on the sea.
“We’ve always had power boats,” says his mother, Mercedes. “We’d take extended holidays and cruise around the islands. Raul and his sister Camila could swim before they could walk.”
Pursuits like soccer, video games and piano lessons occupied much of Raul’s recreational life during his early years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2004, when he was 10, that he became interested in sailing.
“I enrolled Raul and his sister in the summer camp program at Club Nautico de San Juan (CNSJ),” says his mother. “He liked it so much that he wanted to continue sailing into the fall.”
That fall, Raul’s coach urged his parents to enroll him in the Discover the Caribbean Optimist Regatta in Ponce. “He had only been sailing for three months at the time when he raced in the Super Green fleet and won. I was so surprised.”
After this, Raul kept training and won the Green Fleet in Club Nautico de San Juan’s International Regatta in February and went on to win the Green Fleet in St. Thomas’ Scotiabank Caribbean International Optimist Regatta (SCIOR).
“After this, International Judge Pat Bailey told Raul that he didn’t want to see him in Green again. That comment from Pat verified for us that Raul indeed was talented,” Mercedes says.
The pre-teen launched into the Advanced Fleets at the CNSJ’s summer camp in 2005, where he followed with a three-day-a-week training schedule with the Club’s coach, Alejandro Berries, into the fall. At the same time, this honor student also was avidly reading all the sailing tactics books that he could put his hands on. “He had the books piled by his night table and would underline passages with a yellow hi-lighter,” he mother tells.
At the 2005 Discover the Caribbean Optimist Regatta, “Other kids, like Billy Gibbons from St. Croix and Ard van Aanholt from Curacao, wondered who this guy was that was beating them in the Blue Fleet. Raul seemingly came out of no where.”
Raul’s performance at this event qualified him for the Optimist South American Championships in Colombia in April 2006. He finished as the second Puerto Rican sailor. “This gave him confidence,” Mercedes says.
Then, at the SCIOR, he led the pack of close to 80 advanced sailors for the overall, losing on the last day to fellow islander, Ivan Aponte. While not grabbing the first place trophy, Raul’s achievement was remarkable considering he had competed in Green Fleet the year before.
Sailing five days a week paid off for Raul at the Optimist North American Championships in Ponce. He finished 40th overall in a highly competitive fleet under trying conditions.
He followed up this performance by finishing first in Blue Fleet and third overall at the Optimist National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, then winning the Peruvian National Optimist Championships in October.
“Raul’s strong point is his consistency and his good strategy,” says his mother. Now training with Cuban coach, Osvaldo Padron, Raul has set his sights on doing his best at the Optimist South American Championships in Brazil, then the Optimist Worlds in Sardinia, Italy, to be held this summer.
Mercedes says, “Raul likes sailing because he is able to be out there and make his own choices. He believes that practicing a lot and reading books has helped him improve. He also thinks that making good friends in sailing has been very important. We he gets to be 15, he wants to experience different types of boats – specifically 420’s and Snipes. Depending on his final height and weight, maybe a Laser. Ultimately, he would like to keep sailing, maybe get a scholarship, and perhaps consider the Olympics.”