It's one of the first questions he gets asked: How does a kid become a top sailor in one of the driest, inland climates in B.C.?
Easy. When you love sailing as much as Riis Ingalls does, you don't need the high seas to do it.
"Everyone's like, 'Where do you sail in Kamloops?' " said the Heffley Creek teen, who graduates from Grade 10 at Norkam secondary school this month.
"But I'm always going to the Coast sailing — and a few weeks ago, we were in Nicola Lake sailing."
At 16, Riis is one of the best seamen in the region and certainly one of the most celebrated cadets from Kamloops 137 Sea Cadet Corps.
A petty officer (first class), he was recently awarded the Lord Strathcona Medal — the highest achievement a sea cadet can attain.
The medal doesn't come easily. It requires nothing less than exemplary performance, not to mention the endorsement of one's superior officers, which Riis doesn't seem to have any trouble getting. In fact, since age 12 when he enrolled in the cadet program, Riis has steadily gained recognition and praise.
Last summer, he scored a bronze medal at a national sailing regatta in Kingston, Ont. He goes back in August for the 2012 competition, aiming for gold.
"I'm going to be working hard (for gold)," said Riis, who will get a chance to practise his sailing skills at cadet camp on Vancouver Island prior to the nationals.
"After this summer, I'll know a lot more and my chances will be better."
Riis, not surprisingly, loves sailing and spends every chance he can on the water.
"I enjoy the competitiveness of sailing," he said, "but I also just enjoy being out on the water. . . . Even if it's not heavy winds or anything and I'm not going very fast it's just nice to relax. But I do enjoy the racing part of it. That's what I like most."
When he isn't away at cadet training, Riis can be found on Nicola Lake teaching sailing. The lake, about an hour-and-a-half drive south of Kamloops, is a popular spot among inland sailors.
He likes teaching and he's good at it, too. In fact, Riis got a real-life test of his instructional skills while vacationing with his uncle in Mexico last year. The pair was sailing on a rented boat when they encountered a Vancouver couple in trouble on the water.
"We saw this other boat and they weren't doing too well. They were washing up on the rocks," said Riis.
"So I coached them on how to pull in their sail and pull the tiller toward them . . . . I talked them out of trouble."
As for his future, Riis is thinking he might like to become an instructor because he enjoys helping others learn how to sail.
In the meantime, he continues to go after new experiences on the water. September will bring one of the most exciting to date: a three-week trip aboard the tall ship Royalist as it sails the coast of France.
Riis is one of only 12 Canadian cadets picked for the trip.
Riis says he's glad his parents enrolled him in Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps. 137 and wishes more youth would join. Right now, the roster sits at 30.
"I would like to see a lot more kids," he said, "because more kids means more opportunities for everyone."