Kiwifruit sailors Burling and Tuke care about the oceans as wins pile up


The world’s oceans have given New Zealanders Peter Burling and Blair Tuke the chance to accomplish so much at relatively young ages.

Together, the New Zealand sailors have won Olympic gold and silver medals; helped their country win and then defend the biggest prize in sailing, the America’s Cup; and recently created a team in SailGP, a global league that features a who’s who of sailing. Separately, they competed in the grueling Volvo Ocean Race in 2017-18.

Dominating the regattas on the fastest yachts in the world is their thing. Along the way, Burling, 30, and Tuke, 31, founded the conservation charity Live Ocean, believing that their small island nation faces the challenge of protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.

They immediately focus on the Tokyo Olympics and continue to dominate above the waterline in the high performance 49er single scull. But they also know that as wins pile up early in their careers, they’re in a unique position to talk about what’s going on below the waterline, whether it’s in the Gulf of Hauraki – where they successfully defended the America’s Cup in March. – in the South Pacific or elsewhere on the planet.

“We’ve had some really good results, but it really feels like there’s a lot more out there,” said Burling from Australia, where they are preparing for Tokyo. “The work we do in marine conservation is definitely a big driver to really use the platform in sport to drive truly positive change for New Zealand and the world.

Tuke said, “We see the opportunity that we still have in competition and being able to shine a light on the health of the oceans and use what we’re doing in sailing to get more attention to that. It’s awesome.

The 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race was pretty much the one thing Burling and Tuke didn’t win in the past five years. But it’s what they saw – and didn’t see – on this hike that prompted them to take action.

“It’s an incredibly complex problem and the one for me is what you don’t see,” Burling said. “You look out the window at a healthy ocean or an unhealthy ocean and they don’t look that different. I have sailed around the world being able to count the number of whales we have seen on the one hand and the bird life in the South Pacific was not at all close to what we were told of stories about what it should be.

“At this point you didn’t quite understand why, but since you dive into the science you really start to understand what’s going on there and the issues have become apparent enough quickly enough that we really have to do our part and trying to create positive change, ”he said.

Burling and Tuke are prime examples of New Zealand’s affinity for the ocean.

Tuke said it’s easy for some Kiwis to take the ocean for granted because they don’t see much of the detrimental effects of larger, more populous countries.

“But in the same way, we see an opportunity for us to really lead the world on these issues, because if we can’t do it in New Zealand, it will be difficult for anyone in the world,” said Tuke.

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 initiated the exchange, telling Tuke he was “eager to lead the 49ers with someone” and asking if he was interested.

Tuke replied that they should consider sailing together and added, “The fast boats have caught you, haven’t they? haha but seriously, I think it’s great that you want to sail on a 49er! ”

After winning silver at the 2012 Olympics, Burling and Tuke dominated the 49er class for the next four years and won gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with two races to go. The following summer, with Tuke as a crew member, Burling led underdog Emirates Team New Zealand’s 50ft foiling catamaran, brimming with design breakthroughs, to a stunning 7-1 Cup victory. of America against two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA.

In March, they drank champagne from the Auld Mug again after beating an Italian team 7-3 by outwitting 75-foot monohulls.

Fellow Sir Russell Coutts, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics and has already sailed undefeated in three consecutive America’s Cup games, for two different countries, is in awe of what Burling and Tuke have accomplished.

“They seem to be able to jump into different classes and adapt very quickly,” said Coutts, who has recruited Burling and Tuke to lead the Kiwi team in its SailGP league. “Obviously, they have a good process to go through. They don’t waste a lot of time. They are able to do more sails and have a chance to win them all, which is pretty amazing. They are multi-talented in a few different disciplines.

Burling and Tuke have indeed agreed on a formula.

“I think we’re both pretty easy going people, but ultimately we’re determined to try and achieve what we want,” Burling said. “Obviously, our partnership keeps growing as it lasts longer and longer. “

Tuke said the two have in-depth debriefings after each major regatta and don’t rush to the next one.

“We are both determined to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, but you are not tied to how we have done it before or how different people have done it before,” said Tuke. “We’re always looking for new ways to approach situations, and then we try to enjoy the trip. We both feel lucky enough to do what we do, so we make sure we enjoy it along the way.


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