Stanford University sophomore and sailing team member Elena VandenBerg learned to sail on the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay. When she first started sailing in Annapolis YC (AYC) Wednesday Night Races with her dad on a J/105, she says, “My mom asked me what I had done, and I said, ‘I pulled on the green string!’ I’ve learned a lot since then. Now I trim the kite and occasionally critique my dad’s tactics!” She took time from her busy college schedule last month to answer some of SpinSheet’s questions about her college sailing career.
What junior sailing programs did you participate in as a kid? I started sailing at the Severn Sailing Association (SSA) when I was six and moved to the Green Fleet when I was nine. I moved to AYC when I decided to race in the Red, White, and Blue fleet. After my parents bought me a Winner Opti, I knew I was going to sail for the rest of my life. My friends and I all moved into Club 420s at the same time, and we looked forward to traveling to clinics and regattas. Our parents dropped us off at the airport, and we had to figure it out from there. We all learned so much from sailing in high level Club 420 and I420 clinics.
Lilla Salvesen and I worked hard to be competitive in 420s. We travelled all over the nation together and got to race in Canada and Nova Scotia. We also competed in Club 420s during the Orange Bowl Regatta in Miami between Christmas and New Year’s and in the Club 420 Midwinters in Jensen Beach. AYC ensured our team was able to work with some of the top sailors and coaches in the country including Russ O’Reilly, Katy Stork, Zach Brown, Alana O’Reilly, Nick Martin, Adam Werblow, and so many others.
During the academic year I sailed on the Archbishop Spalding High School sailing team (and co-captained with Amanda Wagner).
Tell us a bit about your experiences sailing at Stanford.
It was an easy transition since there are lots of former AYC junior sailors on the team, including four of us who are all classmates. I started my freshman year skippering, and then I started crewing a bit last spring to learn more from the upperclassmen and to compete in some coed regattas. I am now skippering and crewing this fall. It has been beneficial being able to switch back and forth, because it has made me a better sailor.
Do you have a favorite moment or regatta from your college sailing experience?
When I was crewing at this fall’s Navy Women’s Regatta, we were in second in our division by two points going into the last race of the regatta. My skipper, Mimi El-Khazindar, and I were getting ready for the last race and were trying not to think about the points between us and Yale. At the windward mark, we were three boats behind Yale. We worked really hard downwind and rounded the leeward mark right behind the Yale boat. On the last upwind leg, we split sides. It was hard to see how it would all play out, but we focused on keeping our eyes on our own race. We finished right before the Yale boat and two other boats. It was so close that we could not tell who finished first. Those other two boats ended up beating the Yale boat, and we won the overall tie-breaker, winning our division!
What are the three pieces of sailing gear you can’t live without?
My Kaenon sunglasses are definitely the piece of gear I value the most. I recently bought some new Zhik boots that lace up the side. The extra ankle support helps me hike, especially while crewing… I’m still wearing my Extrasport RetroGlide Avenger lifejacket. They don’t make them anymore, but all of my friends who have them haven’t found anything as nice or as comfortable. Come on Extrasport!
What advice do you have for competitive high school sailors?
Keep loving sailing and working really hard at practice! I loved sailing in high school… I found myself on the waterfront everyday whether or not I had practice… cleaning my boat, fixing something, checking my settings, bugging my coaches to let me go sailing on our off days, or just paddleboarding. Keeping the passion for sailing is huge, as a lot of kids in high school can get burnt out. In terms of college recruiting, email a lot of coaches and send them a short resume with your top results. They won’t reach out to you, so start sending emails your junior year and making connections.