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Setting Sail

At Age 11, Aidan O’Gwen Is Already a Regatta Champion—and He’s Just Getting Started

Aidan O’Gwen is a seasoned sailor. 

He’s been competing pretty much his entire life: He was 7 when he entered his first regatta.

Gee, that was such a long time ago that he says he can’t even remember how he finished in the competition.

He’s 11 now.

But it doesn’t really matter because O’Gwen, who has a big smile and horn-rimmed glasses the color of his dark hair, has devoted himself to the sport since then, practicing six hours a day on the weekends during the fall and spring and every day, all day long, during the summertime.

“I’m getting better and better,” he says. “I’ve been coming in first in every major event. It’s a big accomplishment.”

O’Gwen’s latest victories include the USODA Midwinter Championship in New Orleans, the Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta in Miami, the USODA Atlantic Coast Championship in Toms River and the Bahamas Optimist Nationals in Nassau, Bahamas. 

In each, he came in first in his age category.

O’Gwen sails in his very own Optimist, affectionally known in the sport as the “opti.” It’s the size of a bathtub and is designed for sailors who are 15 and younger. 

Although he’s sometimes sailing an hour from shore (coaches are nearby), O’Gwen says he’s never scared; he’s been swimming since he was 3.

When O’Gwen’s not at the Toms River Yacht Club practicing, he’s watching sailing videos, developing strategies with his coaches and working on his core: He does sit-ups, push-ups and reps on a hiking bench in the basement of the Basking Ridge home he shares with his parents, Joy and Chris, three older brothers and a black lab aptly named “Sailor.”

“It’s fun to go sailing,” says O’Gwen, who is the only student at St. James School in Basking Ridge involved in the sport. “You don’t have to be competitive to have fun.”

Yeah, but it’s also really fun to win. 

“I like winning,” he says unapologetically. “I think everybody likes winning.”

O’Gwen, who also plays ice hockey and guitar (he’s learning to pluck out the national anthem), will continue to devote himself to the sport.

“I definitely want to sail in college,” he says, “and I will definitely sail my whole life. I’m just not sure what kind of sailing I will do after college.”

Of course, he could change course. 

He is, after all, only 11.

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