Sailor Spotlight: Ben DeFonzo
Ben DeFonzo is a 14 year old Opti sailor from Pennsylvania who finds himself sailing on Barnegat Bay most weekends during the school year and every day during the summer. What I love about Ben is that - despite being 14 - he has already sailed the boat for 6 years. Ben started sailing young, but he loved it so much that he just wanted to be on the water with his friends. He credits sailing in the off-season and chasing around the older kids as one reason for his success today, but the reality is this kid works so hard and spends as much time as possible in his boat. More importantly, Ben comes from one of the nicest families in the sailing community, and it's impressive to see that friendly mentality both on and off the water. Ben, and his younger twin siblings, are going to be sailors you will see at the top of the results sheet for many years!
Name: Ben DeFonzo
School: Peirce Middle School, West Chester, PA
Yacht Club: Toms River Yacht Club & Surf City Yacht Club
1) Ben, you've been sailing Optis on Barnegat Bay for many years now. Tell me about your progression from Green Fleeter to where you are today. What are some things you did to help get you where you are today? I started sailing at Toms River Yacht Club 6 years ago when I was 8. I sailed in the Opti C - Green Fleet my first year. That year my group sailed in the Down Bay Interclub and some of the local regattas. Immediately, I discovered my love for being on the water and racing. The next year I moved right up to the race team at TRYC. All of the members of the race team were at least two years older than I was but they really took me under their wing and taught me a lot. Sailing on the race team with the older kids to chase, many of whom I’m still good friends with, definitely pushed me and improved my boat handling skills. Another big step that allowed me to advance my skills was my participation in the Colie Sails Spring and Fall Series at a very young age. The series was just starting back then and I remember at age 8 often being the youngest sailor and always finishing at the back of the fleet but at the same time building tons of confidence on the water. I think that sailing with the older, more experienced kids and watching them really helped me build my skills. Of course, coaching is hugely important and the summer instruction I’ve received from coaches like Amy Hawkins at TRYC, Clari Piran at SCYC and many others really allowed me to progress to where I am now. For the last two years I’ve been sailing with Team LBI and there is no room for mistakes when sailing with that group!
2) You've just returned from Holland for the Magic Marine Easter Regatta. It's a huge accomplishment to represent your country at an international event like this. Tell me about the regatta and how you did. The Magic Marine Easter Regatta was an entirely new challenge for me and a different level of competition than the normal USODA regattas I’m used to attending. I went into this regatta with expectations of heavy wind based on what I had heard about sailing in the Netherlands. I was looking forward to some heavy breeze like we typically get in NJ, but, unfortunately, the wind dropped off the second day and we almost lost a day of racing due to lack of wind. The light conditions made racing a bit more challenging but the U.S. had a very good team and still performed well. There were 15 of us from all over the United States - Cape Cod to St. Petersburg to San Francisco and in between. On the 4th day we split into Gold, Silver and Bronze fleets. All of Team USA qualified for the Gold or Silver fleets. I was fortunate to qualify for the Gold Fleet and ended up 57th out of just under 300 boats from around the world. Our coaches, Eric Bardes and Sarah Newberry, were awesome to work with, and at the end of the regatta they told us we were one of the top performing U.S. teams that has sailed this regatta!
3) What is the appeal of going on international trips? What are some of the cool perks to representing your country? It was pretty amazing when we got there and started seeing teams from so many different countries showing up. There were teams from 16 different countries. Some of the larger teams were from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium, Norway and Germany. We met kids from all over, and everyone was so friendly. We all made some lifelong friends there that we will see at different sailing events in the future. We had some time as a team to see some of the Netherlands too which was cool. One night we went on a canal tour in the town of Leiden, and we got to do some exploring in Amsterdam too. Lake Braassemermeer, where we sailed, was a great venue and it was a great opportunity to learn more from being in a place with different wind shifts and tides. Above all, the appeal is to sail for Team USA and represent the United States!
4) Last summer you came out a couple times to try out the Waszp. What did you think of the boat? Was it easy to get up and foil? The Waszp has been one of my favorite boats to sail. I was psyched when Molly and Carl Horrocks asked me to go out with them. Once you got up foiling it felt amazing, but it was NOT easy to do. It took me a while to get up on the foils and really get going but if you have the right wind you can really fly. It takes some time to figure out the balance and technique needed to get up on foils but once you do it feels great. I spent most of the day trying to balance the boat or in the water trying to flip it back over but I’d jump at the chance to sail one again.
5) In the Opti class, it seems like getting off the starting line is really important. Give me three of your best starting tips that apply to all different boats. One thing I like to do 5 minutes before the start is go above the line and look for the puffs and the next breeze that is coming down the course. This helps me determine where I want to start and where I want to go after the start. Second, you need to be very aggressive. If you are not aggressive you will never be able to find a spot in the first row or even be able to hold your spot on the line. Third is to get good acceleration off the line. You need to have good speed off the line so that you can hold your lane after the start.