A national and international champion sailor, and budding environmental advocate – 21-year-old Serena Woodall has crammed more into her young career than many people twice her age.
And her resume just got even more impressive.
Fresh off victory with the Edge Women's Match team at the Women's World Match Racing Tour's inaugural Casa Vela Cup in San Francisco, Woodall last month also managed a fifth place with the Live Ocean Racing team at the Spi-Ouest regatta in France – the first event of the 2023 ETF26 season.
Woodall is a founding member of the 2.0 Women’s Racing Team competing on the WWMRT and has recently started sailing in the 69F Youth Foiling Gold Cup with fellow Kiwis Sam Street and Andre van Dam.
She was also selected to represent New Zealand at the 2021 Youth America’s Cup before it was cancelled due to Covid-19 and has been heavily involved in the Waiheke Marine Project and on the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s sustainably committee.
In the latest of our regular feature shining the spotlight on the country’s yachting community and the people at its heart, we talk to the Waiheke Island local about her sailing pathway, juggling multiple classes, her drive to win and her passion for ocean conservation, and the challenges and opportunities for young female sailors in New Zealand.
You’ve recently finished the first regatta in the 2023 ETF26 series. What was that like?
Spi-Ouest was an awesome event to start the season and a steep learning curve. We had a couple of training sessions going into it and then had a range of conditions throughout. We’re gelling well as a team, and I believe we have set a good foundation for the rest of the season.
How did you become involved with the Live Ocean Racing team?
Last year, the core team couldn’t make foiling week at Lake Garda, so Helena Sanderson and I were given the opportunity to fill in. It was probably a case of right place at the right time, as I was in Europe racing the 69F and doing some match racing. Sailing with and learning from Liv Mackay and Jason Saunders was one of the highlights of my sailing last year and a glimpse into sailing at a high level. I’m also proud to be sailing for a purpose.
The Live Ocean Racing team is a unique mix - what was it like sailing with Seb Menzies, Mackay and Danish SailGP team member Katja Salskov-Iversen in La Trinité sur Mer?
I really enjoy mixed-gender sailing as it offers different strengths across the team. Seb and Andre [van Dam] are both incredible sailors and we all get on well, while Liv and Katja are such impressive athletes and great role models. I've looked up to Liv for some time - she’s achieved some pretty amazing things - like being the first woman on the NZL SailGP team and being part of the [America’s Cup] AC40 two-boat test programme. She bosses what she does on the water and is a great person off it.
How did you become involved in sailing?
I grew up on Waiheke Island, so I was always in or on the water. One day I decided to give sailing a go at the local sailing club. Growing up, my friends and I would spend the weekends sailing various boats to other islands in the Hauraki Gulf and go camping. I think I was hooked on the freedom it offered. I didn’t really follow the traditional sailing pathway. I did a bit of Optimist sailing initially, but never really competed in dinghies as getting boats off the island wasn’t that convenient. We had a bit of team sailing at school, although I only started racing competitively when I joined the [RNZYS] youth training programme and it’s all evolved from there. I’ve just recently bought a Waszp to train on at home but I am focusing more on the 69F, ETF and match racing circuits this year.
You sail a range of boats – match racing on keelboats and foiling in the 69F. Do you have a favourite and what are some of your best memories in both classes?
It’s hard to pick a favourite! Starting out, I had a big focus on match racing as part of the youth training programme and then we formed 2.0 Racing. Being part of that group and progressing with the team throughout the years must be a highlight. We’re all great mates and every event is fun but also extremely competitive. Another highlight was second place at the women's world championships at home in November with the Edge Women's Match team.
I’ve really enjoyed learning a new boat in the 69F and going a bit faster over the last year. We’ve just launched a new campaign - Enzedder Racing - for the 2023 season. Our first event was in Miami in January. Having never sailed together and the rest of the team being new to the boat, it was exciting to show some early potential by qualifying for the Barcelona Grand Final in November. Our next event is in a few weeks and we’re all itching to get back in the boat.
You were a part of the Blake Inspire for Sailors class of 2019. What are your memories from that week?
It was eye-opening in many ways. We spent the week doing various activities around the gulf, learning more about the current state of the gulf and ocean health in general and actions we can take to support it. Looking after the environment has always been a passion of mine – when you spend so much time on the water, you quickly become aware of the destruction it’s facing and the need for all of us to be better. But it [Blake Inspire for Sailors] was where I realised the urgency of the situation and how to educate ourselves and people around us about environmental issues. It was where I found my voice.
As one of the country’s top young female sailors, what are your thoughts on the pathways and opportunities for girls and women in sailing (on and off the water)?
Sailing is unique in that there are many different pathways you can take, and they are always evolving. It’s a really exciting time in the sport and there are epic pathways opening up that are a first for the sport with the Women’s America’s Cup and women getting involved on the SailGP circuit. If you put in the time and effort, if you are prepared to take opportunities, aren’t afraid to step out of your comfort zone, and back yourself you’ll find your feet somewhere. It’s not always easy or straightforward but it’s worth it – especially once you start achieving your goals.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you on your sailing journey?
A big one for me has been time-management, finding the hours to work enough to allow me to get on the water. Sailing is obviously a very time-intensive sport - with training, racing and travel – and it can be a struggle to get enough work hours in to support it all.
What are your future sailing goals – for this year and beyond?
I’m a very competitive person, so winning races with both Enzedder and Live Ocean Racing is a big goal this year. Another is to be involved in the Youth or Women’s America’s Cup in Barcelona. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to race with sailors of the calibre of Liv, Katja and the others. This season will be all about learning as much as I can and pushing myself to be better.