Chaya Ahern is part of the crew on Oi!, a sleek TP52 racing yacht skippered by her father Peter Ahern, but being the boss’s daughter does not mean getting special treatment.
“I have to pull my weight just like everyone else and sometimes I feel like I have to do more, because I’m the only girl,” she says about her role as the sewer.
“Sometimes it’s hard being the only girl, only because I see that the guys can get very competitive and be hard on me. I used to take it to heart but I’ve toughened up and now I deal with things as they come.”
Having sailed competitively with Team Oi! for almost a decade, Chaya, who is the youngest participant in the 13th Royal Langkawi International Regatta 2015, cites the hardest thing about racing to be the starts. “A start can make or break a race and if we have a good start, it sets the mood for a good race.”
Being on such a highly-skilled team however means having to face up to the stress and that’s when Chaya turns to Kenny Island for help. “I’ve known him since I was six and he’s very encouraging and helpful. I guess you could say he’s like a big brother or an uncle. If I mess up he’ll set me straight but I know I can always count on him for anything.”
Her earliest memory of sailing is pulling in the kites while in Pha Nga Bay, Thailand, and she was only seven. Her best memory? “It has to be the Langkawi regattas. Every year is great. The people here are so friendly and it always feels like home but last year the parties were a lot more fun.”
She doesn’t only sail. She plays hockey, volleyball and tennis but sailing, she says, is very different, “It’s a very close-knit community of people with a mentality to work hard but have fun together, and we rely on each other.”
She tags her father as a tough task master. “When we’re in a competition, the race is the only thing that matters and there is no chilling out even if we’re ahead of the rest. But I know he won’t mind if I want to stop sailing,” and she talks about her ambition to study computer science. “I’m not a techie or gadget geek but I like how technology can be applied to businesses.”
Despite her life as a sailor, Chaya, who turned 17 on 12 January 2015, claims she’s just a regular teenager. “So far regattas have not taken up any time away from friends or school because most regattas are during my school holidays.”
“I do think some of my friends may be jealous since I get to travel to exotic places like Thailand and Malaysia but my mother is Malaysian so this is like second home anyway,” says Chaya who lives and studies in Perth, Australia.
When not sailing, she’s usually hanging out at the pool with friends, at the movies or shopping. “And I like music. My current favourite is Calvin Harris. I’ve also introduced pop and house music to my dad. He’s not old school. He likes Iggy Azalea.”
Unlike most teenagers however, Chaya’s experience in the competitive sailing world and exposure to people who are a lot older to her means she has had to grow up a lot quicker than her peers. “The advantage I think I have over other kids my age is that I have matured a lot faster in terms of how I think and handle the pressures of life in general. Sailing and competing with this crew and my father have taught me to be tolerant of things and to get along with everyone. I’m sure I think very differently from other teenagers.”