The world’s oceans have given New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke so much to achieve at a relatively young age.
New Zealand sailors have together won Olympic gold and silver medals; helped his country win and then defend sailing’s biggest prize, the America’s Cup; and recently introduced a team in SailGP, a global league featuring sailors. Separately, he participated in the grueling Volvo Ocean Race in 2017-18.
It is their thing to dominate the regatta among the fastest sailboats in the world. Along the way Burling, 30, and Tuke, 31, founded the conservation charity Live Ocean, recognizing that their small island nation needs to step up to the challenge of protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.
“We have had some really good results, but it really looks like there’s a lot out there,” said Burling from Australia, where they are making final preparations for Tokyo. “Certainly the work we are doing in the field of marine conservation is a big driver of using the platform in sport to make a really positive change for New Zealand and the world.”
Tuk said: “We see the opportunity that we are still competing in and be able to shed light on the health of the ocean and use what we are doing in sailing to get more eyes on that. it was good.”
The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race was the only thing Burling & Tuke had not won in the last five years. But it is what they saw – and did not see – on the trek that prompted them to take action.
“It’s an incredibly complex problem and to me that’s what you don’t see,” Burling said. “You look out the window at the healthy ocean or the unhealthy ocean and they don’t look so different. I’ve been able to count the number of whales around the world on one hand and the birdlife in the South Pacific was nowhere near what we were told it was supposed to be.
“At that stage you didn’t really know why, but since you dive into the science you really start to understand what’s going on out there and the problems became clear very quickly that we really had to do our part. There is a need to try and make a positive change,” he said.
Burling and Tuke are prime examples of the affinity of the New Zealand people for the sea.
Tuke said it’s easy for some Kiwis to take the ocean lightly because they don’t see as many harmful effects as in larger, more populous countries.
“But on the same token we see an opportunity to really lead the world on these issues because if we can’t do it in New Zealand, it’s going to be difficult for anyone else around the world,” Tuke said.
Burling and Tuke have been sailing together since 2008. An email exchange between the two is on display at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, along with their gold medals from the 2019 49er World Championships in Auckland.
Burling initiates the exchange, telling Tuke that he was “eager to helm the 49ers with anyone” and asking if he was interested.
Tuk replied that they should look into sailing together and said: “Have the fast boats caught you? Haha but seriously I think it’s awesome that you’re keen on sailing the 49er!”
After taking the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, Burling and Tuke dominated the 49er class over the next four years and won the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics with two races. The following summer, with Tuke as a crewman, Burling designed the 50-foot foiling catamaran of underdog Emirates Team New Zealand, in a stunning 7–1 victory in the America’s Cup against two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA. was recorded.
In March, he once again sipped champagne out of the Auld mug and thwarted a 75-foot monohull to beat an Italian team 7-3.
Countryman Sir Russell Coutts, who won gold at the 1984 Olympics and was once undefeated in straight America’s Cup matches for two different nations, is impressed with what Burling and Tuke have achieved.
“They seem to be able to jump into different classes and adapt very quickly,” said Coutts, who signed Burling and Tuke to lead the Kiwi team in their SailGP league. “Obviously they have a good process that they go through. They don’t waste a lot of time. They are able to do more sailing ventures and basically have a chance to win them all, which is pretty incredible. They’re something Multi-talented in different disciplines.”
Burling and Tuk have really settled on a formula.
“I think we are both very easygoing people, but we are ultimately motivated to try and get what we want,” Burling said. “Obviously our partnership continues to grow as it goes on longer and longer.”
Tuke said the two have extensive debate after each major regatta and don’t rush into the next one.
“We’re both driven to achieve the goals we set, but you’re not bound by how we’ve done it before or how different people have done it before,” Tuke said. “We are always looking for new ways to approach situations and then try to enjoy the journey. We both feel very fortunate to be doing what we are doing so we make sure we go along the way. I enjoy it.
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