Yachting NZ’s Michael Brown provides a lowdown on the Youth America’s Cup – an event that will produce the next generation of sailing stars. 

It won’t be quite as big as the NFL halftime extravaganza, and probably won’t be nearly as scandalous as the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004. But the Youth America’s Cup is something akin to a halftime show during the main event – and a lot more than just glib entertainment.

The Red Bull Youth America’s Cup started on June 12 and runs until June 23, between the Louis Vuitton Cup final and the America’s Cup match, meaning the gaze of the sailing world will be on them as many wait for the final act.

It was created to provide a career path to the America’s Cup for sailors under 25, and, if the first edition is anything to go by, it is proving its worth. Four of the NZL Sailing Team who won the inaugural Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco in 2013 are sailors on Emirates Team New Zealand’s Cup boat – Andy Maloney, Guy Endean and a certain duo by the names of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.

The eight-strong NZL Sailing Team competing in Bermuda this month have similar ambitions.They have made a strong start, winning three out of six races to finish top of the qualifying phase.

“It’s really exciting to see the guys who came through last time competing at the forefront now,” says skipper Logan Dunning Beck, son of successful Olympic sailing coach Grant Beck. “They are not the beginners on the scene, they are the leaders. It’s a real pathway, a real opportunity to step up into the big leagues. It’s not just a sideshow.

“We feel like we are on trial. Everyone is going to be watching, and I’m sure the Cup teams will be watching as well. They will pay attention to the winners.”

The New Zealand team are expected to challenge for the title along with the likes of Team Tilt from Switzerland and the BAR Academy from Great Britain. The 12 teams will sail the AC45s used for the America’s Cup World Series, foiling catamarans capable of speeds up to 40 knots.

If some of the America’s Cup racing has been hair-raising at times, the Youth America’s Cup is likely to dish up even more bump and grind, as up to eight boats at a time converge on mark roundings in a series of fleet races.

“We had a pretty interesting situation with only four boats when we were practice racing in Bermuda,” trimmer Stewart Dodson says. “We were second at the reach mark with Tilt beside us and BAR in front, and when they lost control and did a big pitch-pole, we had to split either side. People were falling in the water. It was a pretty close call and that was with only four boats. Add a bit more breeze and a few more boats and it will be really exciting.”

The thrill is a big part of the reason why so many want to be involved. Sailing has developed substantially over the past five years, with the proliferation of foiling – and not just in America’s Cup sailing. Many versions of yacht racing, from ocean racing to the Olympic classes and match racing to pleasure craft – are embracing foiling. If you google “foiling Optimist”, you might be amazed at what’s possible.

Both Dunning Beck and Dodson agree they have arrived on the scene at a great time. Both came from different pathways – Dunning Beck has Olympic ambitions in a 49er, having been a training partner for Burling and Tuke before they won Olympic gold in Rio; while Dodson sails on the Extreme Sailing Series, a circuit sailed throughout the world in spectacular G32 foiling cats. But both share an excitement about the future direction of the sport.

“I think it’s a great time to be around with all the foiling,” Dodson said. “All the old boys are getting out [of the America’s Cup] with the foiling which is a great opportunity for people like me.”

Dunning Beck worked for Emirates Team New Zealand during the 2013 campaign – he swept the floors and washed boats – and can remember the excitement when the team cracked foiling.

“The boats were so big, so the fact they made them foil was pretty impressive,” he says. “They would be sailing 40 knots in the 12-knot zone [in Auckland]. It was a breakthrough and really exciting to watch. I don’t think anyone realised you could race boats going that fast.”

No one really knows what’s possible at the top level of the sport over the next decade and beyond, other than it will get faster.

The feeling of a boat lifting onto its foils is said to be similar to when a plane takes off, only the sailors aren’t strapped in, aren’t offered an in-flight meal and get a lot wetter.

Dunning Beck remembers how petrified he felt the first time he was at the tiller – largely because of how expensive it would be if things went wrong – but he is completely comfortable now.

“The novelty is almost wearing off,” he says. “It feels normal.”

The America’s Cup, though, is anything but normal. And, like any good entertainment extravaganza, it needs a good halftime show.

NZL Sailing Team

Logan Dunning Beck (skipper): Former World Cup 49er winner and training partner for Burling and Tuke

Stewart Dodson: Sails with Red Bull on the Extreme Sailing Series

Micah Wilkinson: Red Bull Foiling Generation world champion (with Liv Mackay). Has Olympic ambitions in the Nacra (foiling catamaran)

Harry Hull: A two-time national match racing champion and experienced inshore and offshore racer.

Matthew Kempkers: A Laser sailor who will provide some of the grunt on the AC45

Josh Salthouse: Races on the Extreme Sailing Series with NZ Extreme Sailing Team.

Isaac McHardie: 49er sailor who won a world youth title with Wilkinson in 2013

Luca Brown: Former Canterbury under-18 and under-20 rugby player who has Olympic ambitions in a 49er

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