Smith is Racing His Way Across the Seas
Guilford sailor Wylder Smith is only 15 years old, but already the teen has seen most of the United States and abroad. Wylder is an Optimist sailor, competing in races across the globe in an Optimist boat, which is 7-feet long. This type of boat is sailed by top athletes under 15 years of age across the world and has taken Wylder to Lake Garda in Italy, Bodrum, Turkey, Valencia, Spain, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“[Brazil] is one of my favorite places to sail,” Wylder says.
Wylder’s cross-country treks and international excursions are business trips, as he’s one of the world’s best Optimist sailors with first-place finishes in a Venice team race in Italy and at the US team trials regatta, to go along with third-place finishes at the South American regatta in Peru and World Championship in Spain.
Wylder was coached by Arthur Blodgett at the World Championships, and the coach says the teen has a high ceiling in the sport of sailing.
“To get to this level and be anything, it takes a lot of dedication and love for the sport,” Blodgett says. “First and foremost, I have to acknowledge the work he’s put in in the optimist class, working with a lot of great coaches to make himself the sailor he is because the level of competition is super high.”
Wylder says he found his way to the water because of his dad, who also sailed. He says his father helped him develop a love for the sport when he was about six or seven years of age at the Guilford Yacht Club. By age 10, Wylder was making a name for himself in the local sailing community.
“Once I started winning local events, I started going to more competitive teams and regattas, which is basically a championship,” Wylder says.
These regattas, a series of boat or yacht races, presented quite the challenge for Wylder. He was racing in United States Optimist Dinghy Association (USODA) regattas with the hopes of qualifying for even bigger international events. He says after local success, adjusting to tougher, stronger competition on the water was a process.
“At first, I wasn’t good [in the regattas],” Wylder says. “Those are a big upgrade from the local leagues I was winning. That’s when I started doing the USODA (United States Optimist Dinghy Association) regattas, they have a few qualifiers, and that’s how you qualify for the international events.”
When Wylder was competing in local events, he caught the attention of Blodgett, who is the coach of the Annapolis Yacht Club in Annapolis, Maryland.
“I had known him from coaching on a club team, Annapolis Yacht Club. I coached against Wylder over the years, and he’s always been a great sailor,” Blodgett explains. “Good kid, and sportsmanlike with all his competitors.”
Wylder continued to perfect his craft, sailing with Loot, a team coached by Roberto Fabini, competing in races across the country for seven consecutive weeks.
“It’s basically seven weeks straight of sailing, and I started improving really quickly,” Wylder says. “I got second at the National Championship that summer. That was my first breakthrough regatta.”
That opportunity gave Wylder a chance to sail in many different locations in the United States.
“[Miami] is one of my favorite places to sail in the US,” he says. “They have all sorts of conditions. If you go out past the bay, you go out to the ocean and get big waves. If you stay in, you’ll have more flat and choppy water and lighter winds. It’s just a great place to sail, and Miami is just a cool place to be.”
Wylder was developing as a sailor, performing well at regattas, and thanks to his stellar showings and noticeable improvements, was sailing internationally with USODA, where he was led by Coach Fernando Alegre, also known as “Happy.” However, as sailing and travel began to consume more of Wylder’s time and energy, he and his family had a tough decision to make regarding Wylder’s time in school. He says when he was 13, going into the seventh grade, his family decided, along with his coaches, that it was best for him to receive home schooling, enabling him to focus evenly on sailing and education.
“I knew I was already one of the better [sailing teens] in the country; I didn’t know exactly where I could take it, but [Alegre] knew I could take it far, and he motivated me to start homeschooling so I could travel more and go with him and same with my dad,” says Wylder. “[My dad] agreed with [Alegre], and he gave me all the motivation and found a path for me to become one of the best sailors. It wasn’t obvious, but once the idea was brought up to me, it seemed like a really good idea. My mom was upset, she didn’t want me to be away so much, but she supported me a lot.”
Wylder has excelled in the sport, and along the way, he’s been able to have some memorable experiences on the water.
“There’s this place, this lake in Italy called Lake Garda, and that’s the sailing capital of the world basically,” he says. “There’s always good winds, and it’s really nice; it’s surrounded by mountains, and it’s just a really pretty place, and the food is amazing. You’ll always have good winds and good food.”
And the teen has experienced some frightful moments, too.
“In Argentina, Mar del Plata is usually always really windy and has massive waves, like 6–7, even nine feet sometimes,” Wylder says. “That place is amazing. One time my coach and I and my teammate were coming a bit late to the racecourse, so we had to tow out since the waves are 10 feet tall and it’s really windy, we had to go fast, and we were just jumping off the waves, and it hurt a lot. It was a bit scary but fun. Once we got out, it was really nice conditions.”
Along his journey, Wylder has impressed teammates and coaches. Blodgett says Wylder was a consummate team-sailor throughout their regattas together.
“Getting to work with Wylder as his coach was a pleasure; he was a leader on our team,” the coach says. “He was always ready to motivate his teammates when they needed it, and he was super kind to everyone.”
Wylder had all of his sailing skills and valuable intangibles on display for Team USA, according to Blodgett.
“When you’re sailing for your country, it’s an honor, and he really understood and embraced it,” says the coach.
After much success as an Optimist sailor, Wylder is heading to boarding school in Virginia, at Christchurch School. He said he still loves Optimist boats, but he is ready for any new challenge the world of competitive sailing hands him.
“Right now, I’m open to whatever boat,” he says. “I want to try them all.”