Photography by Ash Brunning / Beau Outteridge
Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron’s 2016 Youth Sailor of the Year, Tom Needham, is treating the upcoming Australian Youth Championships at his home club as a chance to add to his rapidly growing sailing knowledge. But, with this being his last youth regatta, he has in mind some lofty goals.
Needham is one of nearly 200 entrants across seven classes for the event, which will serve as a qualifier for the 2018 Youth World Championships in the US in July, a regatta at which Needham is keen to compete.
“The goal is to qualify for the Youth Worlds and try to win the nationals. But overall I just want to improve,” the fresh school leaver said.
“It’s a good regatta with such a competitive fleet and it’s a good chance to improve all the elements of sailing, all the features that go into racing well.”
“The other thing is, I’m not too sure what I’ll be sailing next year. It depends on my size and the comps I go to. I might be moving to a 49er or staying in the Radial or moving to the full rig. I’ve got a few options. We’ll see what this new year brings. I’ll try them out and see what works.”
Among those standing in Needham’s way are his mates Zac Littlewood, who won the Laser Radial class at the Australian Laser Championships at RQYS last week, and Sam King, who came fifth overall.
“We all talk and are pretty good friends,” Needham said.
“You do want to keep every advantage for yourself, but we’ll often discuss and debrief together after racing. It’s probably more friendly banter than anything.
“I was pretty happy with how I went at the nationals at RQ. I was third [Australian] youth boy overall, which I was pretty stoked with. So I feel good going into the Youth Championships.”
Needham is also stoked about being able to compete in the major event on home waters, completing a busy few years since he began sailing there as a Year 8 student.
“Everyone’s really inviting there,” he said of the Squadron, where he works as an instructor.
“All the coaches and other people are really happy to help you, especially when you first join. They’re also very good at taking you from stage to stage so you don’t get stuck. They help you move up to the next level.
“I started with the Laser 4.7 and did the nationals in Sydney, where I came fourth, which qualified me for the Worlds in Kiel, Germany. After that I hopped in the Radial, did the nationals in Adelaide and went all right, but it was more of a learning experience.
“Then I came back to Brisbane and just trained a lot. It was a bit difficult to juggle with school, but we got through it, successfully finished Year 12 in 2017 and was ready and keen for the nationals and youth nationals at RQ.”