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Catching Up with Hans Henken

Aug 21, 2014

STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford sailing rising senior Hans Henken took some time to recount the team’s impressive finish last year at nationals, discuss expectations for the upcoming year, and chat about goals after college.

Henken had an outstanding junior year, co-captaining the team to its highest finish ever at the Gill Coed Championship and helping Stanford earn its first podium finish at the APS Team Race since 1996.


You’re entering your fourth year on the sailing team, how do you think your time with the team has played a role in your Stanford experience?
Well, sailing allowed me to stay focused in school, allowed me to meet new people and has given me another outlet to be competitive and to prove myself as a Stanford student. Going to Stanford for academics is one thing but it’s another to be a student-athlete and being able to go sailing every day. Being a part of that has been awesome these past four years.

What’s your major and is it ever hard to balance that with your sailing schedule?
I’m majoring in aeronautics and astronautics engineering. It’s really difficult to balance with sailing – being gone sometimes four out of the five labs a quarter makes it pretty difficult to stay on top of work and stay on top of classes – but it’s something I’ve just learned to do. And by senior year, everyone has just been able to figure out what we need to do.

So you just got back from Bali, what are you doing for the rest of summer before school starts?
Currently I’m working at the mechanical engineering tubular research lab at Stanford, doing different kinds of research. I’m probably going to spend the rest of my summer doing that and then I’ll start pre-season on the 12th of September.

I understand you had a positive experience at Nationals this year, can you explain that a little? What happened and what it was like for you?
The first national championship we sailed was the team national championship so that is where it is 3-v-3 racing on the same racecourse. So it was me and my teammate racing on the water.

Our team is so big that we actually have two teams to sail on the racecourse; we actually have an A-team and a B-team. Not many teams in the country can do that so we were ranked first for team racing and had a lot of success because we were able to practice pretty hard. But, at nationals, our coach John Vandemoer had decided that the seniors above me, Oliver Toole, Mateo, and Kevin Laube would be the starting team, which was very fair because they were definitely the team to beat at the time.

So I was on the B-team and unfortunately they just didn’t have a good event. They started off a little rough, a little rocky, lost seat races here and there and it was getting to the point where our coach needed to make a decision of leaving them in and seeing if they got any better or changing the team up and he decided to change the team up.

He put Kieran Chung and myself in about a quarter of the way through the racing so there was still three quarters of racing left to do. Kieran and I were both juniors at the time and we were able to step into the role and pull off a third-place finish for the team which was pretty cool for both of us to be able to do that.

Looking back on your freshman year, what were you most nervous about?
I was most nervous about the academics; making sure I was prepared to take classes here. The unknown of college was the biggest thing for me. In terms of sailing, I was just nervous about meeting my new teammates and seeing how we clicked together and seeing how our dynamic would change.

It’s always nerve-wracking to meet new people, on the athletic side, but it’s also really exciting. It’s always interesting to see how you’re going to get along with new team members.

How do you think your sailing has developed since your freshman year?
Tremendously. I would have to say that the class above me, the seniors that just graduated, were a tremendous help in improving my sailing and improving me not only as a sailor but as a person. I took a lot of classes with one of the seniors ahead of me in mechanical engineering and it was always a blast to be with them and learn from them.

I think because of them, my sailing has increased tenfold. I would have to say that I’m a much better sailor now than I was going into my freshman year.

What has been your proudest accomplishment of your Stanford sailing career so far?
Probably being team captain last year. I was elected by the team along with Yuri Namikawa and together we were able to lead the team, again, to a number one ranking throughout the spring season in both fleet racing and team racing. We were able to lead the team at nationals and put ourselves in a really good position to excel at both of the national championships.

We got fourth at fleet racing and third at team race nationals so it was a great feeling knowing that I was elected to lead the team and knowing I was able to fulfill that goal.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s team? And this year’s racing?
I’m just really looking forward to the freshman class coming in. They have a lot to live up to since a pretty big senior class just graduated. Our team definitely got dramatically smaller because of that. But our incoming freshman class, I think there are about eight of them, will be able to refill that gap; they’ll have a lot to learn. It’ll be great to see them grow and see the dynamic of our team.

I’m really excited to be a senior on the team and be a lead role. I’m no longer team captain, Kieran Chung and Haley Kirk are both team captains this year, but it will be great to be a senior on the team and help show the team how it’s done on the water.

What do you think you will miss the most about your team once you graduate?
Probably just the whole dynamic of friendship and the community that our team brings. I came in freshman year and every dinner we would eat together, and every breakfast we would wake up and have breakfast together, it was such a team community all the time that we became a family outside of the dorm family that you go home to every day. So it was always really cool to have someone else to talk to and someone else to discuss homework, sailing or whatever else you really wanted. They were always there to talk and have a good time. So graduating and leaving that atmosphere behind is going to be pretty tough.

Do you have aspirations to sail after college
At the moment I’m looking to campaign for the 2016 Olympics, in the 49er class, but that is pretty lofty goal. I’m definitely planning on campaigning for the 2020 Olympics. The ’16 Olympics might be a little to close to campaign for but we’ll see what happens.

How do you campaign for the Olympics?
You have to do a numerous amount of things. The first thing you have to do is find someone to sail with. Someone you are willing to spend four years of your life with, which is kind of like an engagement without actually marrying that person. After that you have to fundraise, find sponsors who can help to pay for travel expenses, transportation expenses, housing, food and so on and so forth. Then there are six mandatory World Cup sailing events every year that you have to go to. From those, obviously you gain experience, learn more about racing the boat, and just get better until you are ready to qualify your team for the Olympics and possibly qualify yourself.

That process would start immediately after graduation?
I’ve been doing it off-and-on throughout my four years here. It would start full-force once I was able to graduate.