November 18, 2019

14-Year-Old Israeli Sailing Champion Now Lives in Los Angeles

Mika Sternberg

It seems like smooth sailing ahead for Mika Sternberg. Not only has the 14-year-old Israeli sailing champion racked up competition victories in her homeland, she is now competing all over the United States, having moved from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles with her family. She recently participated in an international regatta in Belgium as part of the official U.S. sailing team, in which she finished in the top 10, beating more than 100 competitors from 22 countries.

Mika’s interest in sailing began when she was around 9 years old, and she joined her father, Amit, on weekly sailing excursions at the Tel Aviv marina. “Every time we arrived at the marina, Mika would see all the small boats and she would ask me how she can start sailing on those boats,” Amit told the Journal. “So one of my friends made a connection to the Tel Aviv sailing club and that’s where it all started. Mika climbed into a boat and never got out of it. It took her just one summer to learn the ropes.”

For Mika’s parents, her talent came as somewhat of a surprise because she doesn’t come from a family of professional sailors. “My wife and I have no clue how she got this kind of talent,” Amit said. “I remember the very first competition that Mika took part in, which took place during winter in Haifa. She was in a small boat and it was raining horribly and she was sailing in between large ships and huge tankers in the harbor and we just looked at one another in absolute shock and amazement.”

Mika was 12 when she moved with her family to Los Angeles in 2017. Even though her parents moved for business reasons — both are involved in startups — their No. 1 priority was cementing their daughter’s future in sailing. 

“My biggest influence is Gil Cohen, an Israeli Olympic sports sailor. To excel like her, I need to constantly push my limits.”  — Mika Sternberg

“During this time, Mika was already accomplishing so many things in Israel, such as winning the Israel sailing championship in her age group. So in order to keep that momentum it was very important for us to find the right club and to be based somewhere near the marina, so we chose to live in Pacific Palisades,” Amit said. “I got in touch with the program manager of the California Yacht Cub and, based on Mika’s accomplishments, she got into the club’s program. Mika’s last training in Tel Aviv was on a Saturday and the following week, she already was sailing in California. We tried to make Mika’s transition as smooth as possible.” 

Mika attends Palisades Charter High School, where she is part of the school’s sailing team. She also practices every weekend at the California Yacht Club. Since her achievements in Belgium, she has won second place in the “Best Girl” category of the West Coast Championship. Later this year, she’ll compete in the national championship in New Orleans.

For Mika, the transition from Israel to L.A. has been somewhat challenging. “I still feel Israeli in my heart and soul, and keep in close touch with my Israeli friends,” she said. 

“Israel is so much smaller than the U.S. The farthest competition Mika took part in was in Eilat, which is just three hours away from Tel Aviv,” Amit said. “Now we have to fly everywhere. Also, in Israel, the sailing community is a small group and it feels like a very big family, so people would help each other and take each other’s boats to competitions. In America, everything is larger on every scale. It is much more methodological here — you have grades and instructors taking pictures and videos of the yachtsmen while they train, which they can analyze later on.”

For the most part, Mika feels tranquil on the water. “It depends if it is a big competition,” she said. “Sometimes I can be a little bit nervous but mostly I am calm and relaxed.” 

Mika’s ultimate goal is to become one of the best athletes in her sport, and hopefully have the chance to compete one day in the Olympics as part of either the Israeli or American national team. “My biggest influence is Gil Cohen, an Israeli Olympic sports sailor. She competed in sailing in the Women’s 470 in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and in the same event in the 2016 Summer Olympics. To excel like her, I need to constantly push my limits,” Mika said.

“We are very proud of her and totally support her,” Amit said. “All these years she has been pushing herself. We never forced her. She was like a magnet to the sport. One cannot do this without passion. It is tough on the water; it’s tough in the competitions.”