More than most, Callum Radford surprised himself when he had his first major sailing success at national level at the start of this month.
A year 10 student at Marlborough Boys' College this year, 15 year-old Callum was not expecting big things from his participation in the annual Sir Peter Blake Memorial Regatta in Auckland. He had only been sailing a starling since September and, despite winning the Nelson/Marlborough championships a couple of weeks before, knew competition would be tough at what is the biggest two-day centreboard regatta in New Zealand.
As it happened, Callum was well and truly underestimating his own abilities. After two days and six races, he had beaten 43 others to be crowned the champion of the regatta's second largest dinghy class. The modest teenager said he simply just tried to stay focused throughout.
"I actually went up there thinking the other guys were really good and they were all going to smash me. I just kept focused, I got a first in the first race and the confidence came in from there and I was able to keep going."
He also described a nailbiting last race and said winning such a big regatta so soon after starting out in starlings had led to him becoming even more committed with his sailing.
"The person I was battling with for first place was beating me, so I had to overtake her and beat her to win the regatta. We were fighting it out for the whole race and then she capsized and I didn't. [When I won] it was an amazing feeling.
"I wasn't expecting to do well in my first year in a starling, I was just going to go to the odd event. But now I'm going to go to all the events I can [this summer] to get better. I've also been training a lot harder since the Sir Peter Blake, I've stepped up my fitness and I'm trying to sail as much as I can."
The youngest of three brothers, Callum has lived at the family property in Northbank Rd, not far from Onamalutu, his entire life. Rugby, with the Renwick club, was his first sporting passion, but it wasn't long before his father, Simon, introduced him to sailing.
Aged about 7, Callum started going out on his dad's keeler, something they still do when they race an Elliot 5.9 in the Waikawa Boating Club's Tuesday night summer series.
His involvement with Queen Charlotte Yacht Club started when he was 10 and he joined their popular Learn to Sail programme. The next summer he had his own optimist and while sailing steadily continued to get more serious, Callum said it was not a case of instant success.
"I won a few races at the club, but that was about it when I first started because there was a lot of other guys who were really good. It helped, though, because it improved my skills pretty quickly."
The optimist green fleet title at the Nelson/Marlborough championships in November 2008 was his first significant success and soon after that he made the step up to the optimist open class. Since then there have been many trips out of Marlborough to compete, an 11th place finish at the South Island Optimist championships in February 2010 his best result until the most recent triumph.
After more than four years in the class, Callum bowed out of the optimist with what he called a disappointing 10th place in the silver fleet at the national champs in April. However, since then, it has been almost all good news.
About a week later, he was part of the MBC team that won the silver fleet at the national teams championships and, after the winter break, the rate at which he has adapted to a new class has been outstanding.
Along with many hours on the water, Callum credits a lot of his success to the instruction he has received from every coach he has trained under. His father has played a big role, while Callum said his mum, Fiona, has almost been a personal taxi service during the past few years.
When he is not sailing, Callum enjoys mountainbiking and typical teenage things like hanging out with his mates and watching TV.
In his final year of rugby, aged 12, he was a Marlborough rep. He does a bit of running and bagged three straight top-three finishes in his age-grade at the Marlborough Primary Schools' Cross-Country Championships for years 5 to 7.
A busy few months lie ahead for Callum and his starling, with the North Island championships next month, the South Island championships in March and the national championships, being hosted in Picton in April. After his win at the Sir Peter Blake Memorial Regatta, he is hopeful of a top-ten finish at all three.
Whether he achieves this or not, it appears sailing is set to play a major part in his life for years to come.
"I'll probably stay in my starling for the next couple of years, but next season I want to get into a 420 as well as sail starling. I'd like to become professional one day, maybe sail on superyachts or some hard out racing boats somewhere."
- The Marlborough Express