Thursday, March 23, 2023

Sail GP – Why It’s the Future of Sport & Why You Should Get Behind It

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Kelly Bertrand reports from Saint Tropez ahead of this weekend’s Kiwi Sail GP debut

Get ready Aotearoa – it’s about that time again when we as a nation band together, look towards the water and remind ourselves the difference between tacking and jibing. That’s right, it’s sailing time, baby – but this competition looks a little different than what we’re used to.

It’s a gloriously hot day in Saint Tropez as I’m watching the Kiwi boat, led by our old mates Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, absolutely rip through the course and beat Australia by just under a boat length in the French leg of Sail GP.

So, you’re asking yourself – what is Sail GP? Why should I care? And why are you in Saint Tropez?!

Well, Sail GP is a new kind of sporting competition where sport and performance meets purpose and impact. At its core, it’s a sailing competition (duh) with nine teams from around the world doing battle on the water at each Grand Prix stop. Just think of how F1 works, but boats.

Powered by just wind, with a massive focus on gender equity, carbon positivity and intense, fabulous racing, it’s a new breed of sporting competition that completely democratises and de-wanks a lot of what gives sailing an elitist vibe.

So that’s why you should care. And as to why I’m in Saint Tropez? Well, I’m here to give you a sneak peek as to what to expect in the first-ever New Zealand leg of the competition that’s happening this week in Lyttelton – you know, the Saint Tropez of the south – and honestly, this league has me, someone with only a passing interest in sailing, absolutely hooked.

Sitting on the sea wall of the famous French Riviera town with a glass of bubbles in hand, it’s incredible how CLOSE the boats get to shore – you can actually see everything that’s happening – and also, how close they get to each other!

So to get the down-low on just what Sail GP is all about, I caught up Kiwi sailing legend Blair Tuke for his take on bringing the league to Aotearoa!            

Capsule: Kia ora Blair, so lovely to catch up here in Saint Tropez – you must be so excited about bringing Sail GP to New Zealand for the first time. Lyttelton is the Saint Tropez of the south, after all!

Blair: Hah, exactly! Lyttelton is an awesome place, and awesome places, I haven’t been down there for about 13 years or something and sailing an A class catamaran down there. It’s an epic place to sail, we’re super excited to sail at home. It’s been about a year and a half that we’ve been on the road for us as a team. So to have our first event back in Aotearoa and show Kiwis what the sport is about is great.

Blair Tuke (Image – Instagram)

Sail GP is such a cool model – it’s a true Grand Prix where you’re stopping in at incredible cities and towns around the world and doing epic battles with these boats. And I guess, for people who are used to the America’s Cup as their sailing event of choice, Sail GP is so different because it’s a real democratic and equal approach to the competition, right? You’re all sailing the same boats with open-source information, rather than the secrets of the America’s Cup and that elite kind of money vibe?

Yeah, that’s right. We’re selling some of the most high-tech boats with the best sailors. But a lot of what Sail GP is doing is actually outside of the racing with the Impact League which runs alongside the racing – it tracks the positive actions we teams make to reduce our overall carbon footprint and help accelerate inclusivity in sailing.

It’s also super accessible – it’s designed so we race really close to shore, so you don’t need a boat or anything to watch. So yeah, it’s really trying to help grow sailing and get away from that elitist tag that the sport kind of has. Sailing is so ingrained in Kiwi’s lives – think about the first people to arrive in Aotearoa, they sailed on waka. That’s pretty awesome, and for us as a team we’re learning about that more.

We’re racing the exact same boats, and it’s all about the sailing, how we manipulate the settings and how you work together to get the most out of the boat.

Are you guys ever at home?! The schedule seems insane!

[Laughs] I know, it really does seem like we’re never there, especially during this hectic European tour. But, it’s so neat to be able to represent your country and fly the Kiwi flag when we can.

And let’s chat through the women’s pathway too – perhaps female athletes still don’t have the same opportunities from the very beginning of their sailing journeys as guys, so Sail GP is trying to balance that out?

It’s so awesome. For too long there’s been a big gender gap in professional sailing, and what the league’s doing with the women’s pathway is amazing. It’s not going to happen overnight. At the top level, we have to show that there is a future and opportunities.

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