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V.A.V. Group is Sponsoring Finnish E-Dinghy Sailor Hugo Heikkala

Heikkala sailing in the E-dinghy

Who is Hugo Heikkala?

Heikkala is an 18-year-old competitive European dinghy (E-dinghy) sailor from Oulu, Finland. During his interview, he’s enjoying his summer vacation at home after spending June training in Espoo. Heikkala will continue his third year of high school this fall and is scheduled to graduate in the winter of 2025.

Heikkala began sailing at seven years old with an Optimist dinghy. He was drawn to sailing through his god-father, ex-competitive sailor Jorma Kinnunen. At around nine years old, he took a break from sailing and took up football (or soccer, for those across the pond), which he pursued until age 14-15. Heikkala decided to return to sailing and began training with an E-dinghy, this time competitively.

How did you decide to start competing?

– There was just this spark, and it became important to me. And in the last three years, I’ve hardly done anything else!

Heikkala’s first competition was at his local sailing club, at around nine years old, before his switch to football. When he returned to sailing, he unfortunately suffered a stress fracture to his upper back, which meant a recovery break before getting back into competing. Fully healed and ready at 15, his first competition was the NJK ranking in Helsinki in 2021, and after that, there hasn’t been a competition in Finland that he would have missed. Heikkala already boasts impressive achievements, including earning a place in the e-dinghy World Championships in Denmark in 2023 and being promoted to the Europe-class Finland National Team.

The most interesting and challenging part of sailing to Heikkala is the number of variables he must keep track of.

– Now that I’ve made it to this point, the hardest part is getting everything right, of course. There’s always some part in every race, even just one wave or start, that can cost me time. The conditions can change many times during the day, so every race is so unpredictable.

For now, the most memorable achievement for Heikkala came from last season’s World Championship Preliminaries in Denmark, where he snatched his place to the World Championships.

– This season has been really great, too, but that race went so well that it’s the first one that comes to mind.

His next big goal is the Youth European Championships in Belgium in July, where he will aim for the top 5. After that, he’s looking to place in at least the top 10 in the World Championships in Hanko, Finland.

What exactly is an E-dinghy?

A Europe Class dinghy, shortened to E-dinghy, is a light one-person dinghy with a mast of around 5 meters. The E-dinghy is tailored to fit the sailor by measuring the mast to the sailor’s weight. E-dinghies were an Olympian class until 2007, but it is still a favorite among European sailors. Young sailors usually start with the Optimist dinghy, but when Heikkala returned to sailing as a teenager, he ended up training with the E-dinghy for a very practical reason:

– Many people say that if you learn to sail with an E-dinghy, you’ll know how to sail them all. It’s a really good jumping-off point to the Olympic classes. 

Regarding essential equipment and technology on the dinghy, Heikkala’s first pick is easily the mast.

– All of the critical adjustments have to do with the mast. The mast’s angle in relation to the deck, called “rake,” can be adjusted to fit different conditions. Every time before sailing, we measure the distance between the top of the mast and the stern and then adjust based on the weather, for example.

Before a competition, especially in windy conditions, Heikkala checks and tightens all the shackles, screws, and bolts, checks the sail for any tears and makes sure there are no issues with the hull.

Apart from a broken keel, Heikkala has been lucky and hasn’t had any equipment failures during his competitions. He has, however, seen others deal with plenty of mishaps, from torn sails to even a broken mast in Olympic Classes.

– Luckily, the E-dinghy has a really sturdy and flexible carbon fiber mast; those don’t really break off, he laughs.

Heikkala is also prepared for any such accidents and knows what to do if something were to interrupt his race.

– You just make your way to the side to your coach. There, you fix whatever you can and get ready for the next start. We have tool kits and spares for pretty much every part of the dinghy that could break during sailing.

Do you have any pre- or post-competition traditions?

– I don’t have any set traditions, but I guess there are some recurring things. A week before a competition, I start to get more focused and pay more attention to the tactical stuff when I train. Usually, I wax the dinghy before a competition, Heikkala recounts. On the morning of the competition, I eat a good breakfast, since the time spent on the water during competitions can stretch out to even six hours. But when I get to the water, it’s the same old, same old.

And after the competition?

– The day after a competition is for relaxing and good food, is Heikkala’s determined answer.

Heikkala encourages anyone interested in sailing to get in touch with their closest sailing club coaches or join a beginner’s course.

Most clubs will have everything ready for newcomers, from dinghies to life vests!

E-dinghy Sailor Hugo Heikkala.
Image: Timo Heikkala

What’s the best thing about sailing?

– Just the sailing itself, being on the water and in the dinghy. Add good weather and wind, and it’s just the best there is.

If you could sail anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

– Probably Marseille! Where they’re holding the Olympic sailing events this year.

Heikkala doesn’t specify whether he’d be there to sail in the Olympic races or just go for a nice day out ~

For anyone interested in sailing, Heikkala encourages them to get in touch with their closest sailing club. 

– Sailing Team Oulu, for example, has at least one beginner course every summer, and if you miss that, just get in touch with the coaches! Tell them you’re interested and want to try it out; there’s always room for more people.

Heikkala also wants to send his greetings to everyone at V.A.V. Group: 

– At this point, the travel costs, especially, get really rough. It’s so amazing that V.A.V. Group wants to support me in this. Not to mention that the slogan, “Seal your success,” is pretty sweet. I’m really excited to have that on the boom! 

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V.A.V. Group specializes in producing tailor-made profiles for customers who have specific requirements for their products. Our production process is extremely flexible with an ability to quickly produce small to medium size production series. We work together with our customers to find the best solution. The company was founded in 2005 and is located in Ii near Oulu in northern Finland.

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