Sailing’s diversity was celebrated today when Caleb Paine and Daniela Moroz were presented the US Sailing Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards, respectively, at a luncheon in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
For the second consecutive year both Paine (26, San Diego), an Olympic medalist, and Moroz (16, Lafayette, Calif.), a prodigy in an up and coming sport, were first-time winners of the coveted awards that have been presented since 1961. The winners were selected by a blue ribbon panel of sailing journalists and media and each was presented a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master timepiece and a framed print of them from US Sailing.
Moroz went one step better by becoming the youngest to ever win the male or female award. Moroz was 15 years old last year—she turned 16 last month—when she burst onto the kitesurfing scene and ascended to the top step of the winner’s podium.
The awards celebrate the accomplishments of the winners from the previous calendar year. Moroz and Paine were among 18 nominees for both awards who reflect the variety sailing offers as a sport for the ages. Whether young or old, male or female, able or disabled, sailing has a place for anyone willing to push their personal boundaries and learn how to interact with oceanic and atmospheric conditions. The sport is also adapting to new hydrodynamic influences with the introduction of foiling boards and boats.
“I was completely surprised when they told me I’d won,” said Moroz. “I didn’t think I would get it because I don’t regard myself as a sailor. Kiting is a very different sport and I thought they would choose a sailor. And then when they told me I’d won I thought, ‘Oh my god! This actually happened.’
“While sailing and kiting have their differences, we’re all sailors,” Moroz said. “We have a passion for the wind that no one else understands. As the second kiter and first female to win this award, the worlds of sailing and kiting are more and more connected.”
Moroz had a phenomenal year in 2016, just her first year of international competition. The high school sophomore won the IKA Formula Kite World Championship last September in Weifang-Binhai, China. She followed up that success by winning the female division of the inaugural Hydrofoil Pro Tour, which included victories at the final two stops in Mauritius and Rockingham, Western Australia.
Moroz was bitten by the sailing bug before she was even born. Her parents, Vlad and Linda, are both avid windsurfers and competed nationally. Her mom, Linda, sailed a windsurf regatta on San Francisco Bay while pregnant with Daniela. By the time Daniela had to choose between windsurfing and kitesurfing her father had taken up the latter and she saw it as the next wave of water-borne participatory sport.
“Kiting is an extreme sport and can be dangerous. By the time I started learning it had gotten a lot safer than when my dad started five years earlier,” said Daniela Moroz. “A lot of windsurfers are transitioning to kiting. It’s easier on the body and you go a lot faster. I’d done windsurfing when I was younger and kiting is the next progression of water sports.”
Moroz looks up to Johnny and Erika Heineken (both Larkspur, Calif.), the legendary brother-sister kitesurfing duo. Both are past kitesurfing world champions and Johnny Heineken won the US Sailing Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award in 2012. Moroz also had an instructor, Sandy Parker (Rio Vista, Calif.) who provided the right amount of guidance to develop a world champion and Rolex award winner before she even earned her driver’s license.
“She’s an amazing girl, very mature for her age,” said Parker. “When we first met her dad introduced us and I didn’t believe it when she said she was 11 years old. She’s tall for her age.
“The hardest part of kiting is understanding how the wind works and how it interacts with the kite,” Parker said. “Danila’s windsurfing background helped her understand all of that early in her lessons. Kitesurfing is about multitasking, flying the kite and controlling the board. She was able to put it all together very quickly.”
Paine had to wait upwards of six years to become an Olympian, but that made winning a Bronze medal ever the sweeter. Sailing in the physically demanding Finn dinghy, Paine secured US Sailing’s first medal in eight years by winning the medal race in the Finn class, which propelled him to 3rd from 4th.
Paine is the first American to medal in sailing since Anna Tunnicliffe (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) both accomplished the feat at Beijing 2008, and came from behind in dramatic fashion to win the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team athlete selection series in early March.
“To win the Bronze medal and then the Rolex award, it’s such an amazing honor,” said Paine. “It’s remarkable to think that when I was 6 years old I was floating around in a boat and now this. I feel blessed.”
Paine has been the top-ranked American Finn sailor since 2012. He began his Finn dinghy career in the period preceding the London 2012 Olympic Games as Railey’s training partner, and the two athletes challenged each other for much of the past six years.
In both the Olympics and the US Sailing Finn Selection Trials, Paine demonstrated an ability to rise to the occasion. He won his spot on the US Sailing Team by coming from behind in the final race of the selection series to secure the spot ahead of Railey, his training partner who had come out of retirement in 2015.
Last summer in Rio, Paine put forth a similar albeit much stronger performance in the medal race finale. Paine was placed 4th overall at the start of the race, but led wire-to-wire in the double points race and vaulted into 3rd place overall and the Bronze medal.
“One of the main reasons I’m as competitive as I am now is because of Zach’s talent and abilities. He pushed me to where I am,” said Paine. “My training with Zach started me on the right path, and I’m thankful for that. I’ll always be grateful for his early mentorship.”
Paine’s father, Doug, credits his son’s success to his ethic of hard work. “Caleb has said that he needs to work harder than the next guy because he doesn’t have the same talent level,” said Doug Paine. “I’m very proud of him. Not just for his accomplishments but also for the man he has become. I’m also proud that we’re close friends.”
Past U.S. Sailing Team High Performance Director Charlie McKee (Bend, Ore.), a two-time Olympic medalist, added that he was deeply impressed with how Paine performed on the biggest stage. “It was a truly clutch performance, and it was done under an enormous amount of pressure. He went with his instincts, and he nailed it,” said McKee.
Rolex has sponsored the Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards since 1980. Rolex first became involved in the sport of sailing in the 1950’s because it represents the qualities that are akin to Rolex, namely, precision, performance, elegance and grace in the face of extreme adventure.
A Rolex timepiece was a fixture on the wrist of Sir Francis Chichester when he became the first man to sail solo around the world in 1966-’67. Since then Rolex has become associated with rigorous offshore races such as the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race and Rolex Fastnet Race that test man and equipment, elegant regattas such as the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup sailed in the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and prestigious clubs such as the New York Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Squadron.