Peter Burling may be 21 years old and the youngest skipper in the America’s Cup arena, but he arrives with a wealth of knowledge that belies his age – he’s already an Olympic silver medalist and a two-time world champion.
“All the yachting I do, I’m always the youngest, it doesn’t bother me anymore,” says Burling, a tall and soft-spoken New Zealander. “It’s always been that way, I just go with it.”
Burling began sailing at the age of 8 when his dad bought a boat for him and his brother. By the age of 11 Burling had jumped into the Optimist class, the largest youth trainer in the world, and finished second at the New Zealand Nationals after winning the first two races of the regatta. He returned a year later to win the national championship, his first title.
From the Optimist he moved on to the 420, a two-person dinghy, and won with skipper Carl Evans his first world championship by the age of 15. A year later they were repeat champions.
On the fast path to success, Burling and Evans represented New Zealand in the 470 class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They placed 11th in a hastily prepared campaign, but it was a great learning experience for Burling who switched to the 49er Class after the 2008 Games. Now a skipper, he won the silver medal at the London Olympics, a medal he had wrapped up before the medal race finale.
“You obviously learn a lot from every event you do, but the Olympics are certainly special. They only happen every four years and they are what everyone’s trying to aim at, so it was nice to have been there before (in 2008) and seen how it all works,” says Burling. “Most of my youth boats through to the 470 were all pretty similar, but the 49er is a different beast and it took a while to get used to sailing it. We’ve done all right, though.”
Burling is hoping that success carries over to the AC45 for Team Korea. Given his pedigree in the 49er Class, he might be well suited for the role. Burling follows Nathan Outteridge in the helmsman’s role for Team Korea, whom he also happened to follow onto the medal stand at the Olympic Regatta. Outteridge and Burling were training partners leading up to the Games.
“It’s a bit annoying that we’re always stepping where [Nathan’s] been before us, but he’s set a high bar for the team,” Burling says. “I’m looking forward to a bit of racing.”