When Emirates Team New Zealand’s high-speed foiling yacht, Te Rehutai, successfully defended the America’s Cup on home waters against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in March, the victory was a sweet repeat for helmsman Peter Burling. “When we won, Auckland went crazy,” he says. An Olympic gold medalist and World Sailor of the Year, the 30-year-old Kiwi had also skippered Team New Zealand’s boat in 2017. Then 26, Burling was the youngest helmsman in the 170-year history of the America’s Cup. A prodigy, with an uncanny ability to read the sea, Burling sailed his first world championship at 11 and by 16 had won five world titles. At 17, he became the youngest New Zealander to sail in the Olympics.
Burling’s Live Ocean, a charitable foundation he established with sailing partner Blair Tuke to protect New Zealand’s waters, is his other passion. “Many athletes do something like this at the end of their careers,” he says, “but I’ve been fortunate to start in the middle.”
What apps do you use the most?
I like WhatsApp, Surf2Surf, which is a surfing guide for New Zealand, and the Covid Tracer app to scan restaurants. For social media, I mostly use Instagram, but it’s kind of sad because I only have 45,000 followers.
First thing you do in the morning?
I enjoy sleeping in, but I’m willing to get up ridiculously early if there’s something fun on the table like surfing or free diving.
What do you do that’s still analog?
I really enjoy getting out into the environment, biking or going for a run. If I don’t spend enough time in the outdoors, I feel stiff.
What do you most crave at the end of the day?
A warm bed. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to be charging all the batteries.
How do you find calm?
I’m a pretty relaxed person. I can switch on and off. I really enjoy surfing, and I recently got into foil surfing. It’s a slightly different sensation, but both use the power of the waves.
Who is your guru?
I don’t have just one. There are lots of gurus in sailing. Whenever I find a problem, I find an expert. Hundreds of people have amazing knowledge.
What is your exercise routine, and how often do you do it?
It’s massively varied. Surfing or free diving or a whole week of sailing are pretty good exercise. Mountain biking or road cycling. I spend less time actually going to the gym, but when I do, I do all the correct stuff for injury prevention. I need to do something every day.
How do you get to sleep?
I’ve never had any trouble getting to sleep. I learned to sleep fast during the Ocean Race, where you only have four-hour stretches. You learn to trust the people up on deck sailing the boat.
What does success look like to you?
A really ambitious goal. If you’ve done everything you could and fallen short, but had fun along the way, I still enjoy the journey.
If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?
I would learn another language, like Spanish. Probably the downside of living in New Zealand is you’re not usually exposed to other languages. I’m always amazed when you go to Europe and people speak three or four.
How much do you trust your gut instinct?
Quite a lot. Normally, you can trust your gut a lot more if you put in the hard work. People who are generally prepared often finish well.
Who do you admire most, and why?
Conservationists like David Attenborough. I admire the way he’s been able to shift so many people’s way of thinking.
Drive or be driven?
I prefer to bike. If I have to drive, I prefer to drive myself. I am the helmsman on a racing boat.
Are you wearing a watch? How many do you own?
The America’s Cup edition of the Omega Seamaster. It blows me away how amazingly crafted these timepieces are. That’s the only one I own.
When was the last time you completely unplugged?
In 2017 and 2018, when we were doing the Ocean Race around the world. It was 120-odd days away from people.
What’s always in your hand luggage?
Noise-canceling headphones. I like to listen to podcasts. They make long trips more enjoyable.
What’s worth paying for?
Things that have a positive impact on the environment. I shop for brands that have a story beyond the product, whether it’s sustainable fabrics or being ethically sourced.
Last box set or Netflix binge?
I saw Yellowstone. It was a bit off the charts.
Bowie or Dylan?
I barely know them. I’m a fan of New Zealand music. L.A.B’s reggae, Six60’s soul and Lorde are all on my Spotify.