Battling waves and wind, the thrills afforded a sailor are many. Yet for Taft Buckley, the sport has provided journeys not experienced by watermen twice his age.
Buckley, a 14 ½-year-old 8th grader at Parras Middle School in Redondo Beach, is off to his latest adventure after being the only sailor from the West Coast to be invited to represent the United States at the 35th Lake Garda Optimist Meeting in Riva del Garda, Italy.
One of the largest and most prestigious youth sailing regattas in the world, the event takes place April 12-16 and features more than 1,000 competitors from 28 different nations.
This marks the fourth time Buckley has been a member of US Sailing Teams and has competed in Palamos, Belgium and Sri Lanka.
“When I made the Palamos team, I was not quite ready for such a big event like that,” Buckley said. “There were so many sailors and the wind conditions were intense and then dead calm. It wasn’t until I made the Belgium team that everything started to click.”
He finished as the top U.S. sailor and 24th overall in the regatta.
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Taft and his parents, Frank and Stephanie Buckley, make the most of the opportunities. The family left Tuesday to take in some skiing in Zurich, Switzerland before heading to Italy. Following the competition, they will visit Venice where Taft plans to add a ride in a gondola to his list of goals accomplished.
Buckley’s travels have included sailing various courses throughout the United States, snowboarding in Spain, visiting the tallest building in the world — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and volunteering at an orphanage in Sri Lanka.
Buckley began sailing at the age of 10 upon the urging of a family friend.
“My mom has a really good friend that kept suggesting each summer that she sign me up for sailing,” Buckley recalled. “We were not a sailing family so, she just didn’t quite get the sport. I decided to sign up for a two-week session. I found my passion and my passion was sailing.”
Buckley competed for the USA Asian Team in Sri Lanka and took advantage of a five-week vacation when he and his mother visited family in South Africa where Taft was mentored by South African Sailing Team coaches Asenathi Jim and Roger Hudson.
Buckley competes in an Optimist, a small single-handed sailing dinghy intended for use by young sailors up to the age of 15.
“This is my last year in an Opti so I’m making the most of every moment,” Buckley said. ”Competing in the Garda has been a longtime goal. Growing up watching videos of the regatta has made it a dream of mine. The thrill of finishing and competing around the world while seeing different cultures and making new friends has made the sport of sailing so special for me.”
He plays the drums, piano, ukulele and guitar and said his favorite music differs on the moment.
“I like the Grateful Dead, Beatles, Metallica, Led Zeppelin and the Doors,” Buckley said. “If I’m into the guitar, I’ll play the Eagles. If I play piano, I enjoy John Lennon. We are studying the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ as part of a poetry lesson in my English class.”
One of Buckley’s highlights was being able to play piano in the London airport.
Buckley also enjoys photography, taking his Nikon to shoot images of skateboarding and wildlife, and relaxes by cooking.
“My favorite dish is pasta,” Buckley said. “I’m looking forward to taking a cooking class in Italy and bring home some new recipes.”