Ethan Ruiz used to play water polo because of friends. He realized he didn’t enjoy the sport, so he stopped playing in eighth grade.
“I didn’t really enjoy swimming every day or jumping in the pool,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz quickly picked up another water sport. This one involved him staying relatively dry.
There’s nothing keeping Ruiz out of the water now. He turned to crew, and 3½ years later, Ruiz, an incoming senior at Newport Harbor High, is set to represent the United States at the World Rowing Junior Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday.
Ruiz is the Team USA coxswain of the men’s eight, and he’s one of two members from the Newport Aquatic Center at the tournament featuring many of the world’s best junior rowers. Nick D’Antoni, Ruiz’s coach at NAC, is coaching the men’s four at the World Rowing Junior Championships, which got underway Wednesday and end Sunday.
D’Antoni is the same person who told Ruiz what it took to make the U.S. team.
“One day after practice [in March] I walked up to him and told him that I was really interested in joining the junior national team,” Ruiz said. “Nick put in a good word in for me.”
Ruiz got a chance to compete for a spot in June, the same month he guided NAC’s eight to a second-place finish at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla.
During two weeks in Pittsburgh, Pa, Ruiz made the U.S. team as the men’s eight coxswain and went to train in Sarasota, Fla., for another three weeks. Training wrapped up on July 28, a day later, Ruiz arrived in Rio de Janeiro with his team.
The trip marked his first outside of North America.
“I had only visited Mexico before,” said Ruiz, who will be seeing more countries in the form of competition on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the same course rowers will use during the Olympic Games in Brazil next summer.
In the men’s eight division, seven countries are competing, the U.S., host Brazil, Italy, Russia, Germany, Great Britain and Denmark. The U.S. goes up against Italy and Russia on Thursday, starting at 7:55 a.m.
Ruiz’s teammates are James Palmer, Hunter Johnson and Charles Watt, who are each heading to Princeton, Cameron Chater, a future UC Berkeley rower, Justin Best, an incoming freshman at Drexel, Andrew Gaard, a future University of Washington freshman, and Ethan Seder.
Only Ruiz and Seder are still in high school.
The smallest is of course Ruiz, who’s 5-foot-6 and 121 pounds, a perfect size for a coxswain. The less weight onboard the faster the boat.
“When I first started as a coxswain, I was a little bit intimidated by all the big guys,” said Ruiz, who’s job is to steer the boat, coach, and motivate rowers weighing an average of 183 pounds. “As I realized how valuable my skills are I became a more assertive coxswain. I knew how the coach wanted the guys to row.”
If it ends well for Ruiz, teammates will throw Ruiz into the water. Ruiz will be OK with that, because that will mean his team would’ve taken first in the men’s eight.