Coronado resident Willem Van Waay stands in the center with a champagne bottle after a win. (Courtesy photo)

Coronado resident Willem Van Waay said he’s been racing boats since he was just 8 years old. Inspired by his father, who was a racer himself, Van Waay said his earliest memories involved being in Southern California’s waters.

Today, Van Waay is one of just six finalists of the US Sailing’s 2019 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards. The event, which will be held in San Diego for the first time on Feb. 6 at the USS Midway Museum, recognizes sailors who have created a “unique pathway” in the sport of sailing.

“Being a nominee for Rolex Yachtsman of the Year is a tremendous honor,” Van Waay said. “Only a few are selected and our sport is very competitive.”

The news of the awards comes after a successful season for Van Waay. In 2019, he won 10 regattas, including the J24 Worlds in Miami, Fl.

“We made a big effort in 2019, racing in Germany, training hard in Seattle and Miami, and it was super rewarding to come out on top at the end of ten races at the Worlds,” said Van Waay, 46. “Being recognized by US Sailing feels like a great accomplishment for myself as well as my team.”

However, it wasn’t the first time the San Diego County resident took first place. Van Waay said highlights of his long career include winning the Farr 40 Worlds and the Melges 32 Worlds. His proudest achievement happened in 2018, he said.

“I am most proud of winning the J70 Worlds in Porto Cervo, Italy in 2018, where 169 teams competed in rough waters and high winds,” Van Waay said. “This was the largest keelboat one-design regatta in history, making it a particularly proud moment for myself and the team.”

Van Waay said his career in the water dates back decades from when he first moved to Coronado with his family. His father was a Navy Seal who also joined the competitive world of racing.

As an adult, Van Waay was introduced to Coronado legend and Olympic gold medalist Robbie Haines, who took Van Waay under his wing. Since then, Van Waay said he has raced all around the world wearing different hats.

“I’ve taken various roles on a variety of boats between 8-100 feet,” Van Waay said. “I’ve sailed close to 200 days a year for as long as I can remember.”

Although Van Waay has had a storied career of his own, he still finds inspiration in his own father.

“All my life I’ve been inspired by my dad,” Van Waay said. “Regardless of what I was competing in, he always provided me with the tools and encouragement I needed to be successful. He’s an extremely hard-working man and I think that has heavily influenced the way I present myself to the world of professional yacht racing.”

The public can vote for Willem Van Way for the US Sailing’s 2019 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards by going to ussailing.org/news/rolexyofy2019-shortlist/.

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