Tom Slingsby celebrates winning the Australia SailGP on Sydney Harbour I Getty Images.

THERE’S ONLY ONE way for an Australian to celebrate a GP victory: a shoey. Made famous by F1 star, Daniel Ricciardo, this time it wasn’t a motor race that was the catalyst for the legendary celebration, but the Sydney stage of SailGP. And the man doing the skolling? That would be Flying Roos’ skipper and Rolex Testimonee, Tom Slingsby, one of the most successful sailors of all time. One, in fact, with a legitimate GOAT case.

The victory in Sydney on the weekend was the Aussies’ first of SailGP season 4 and also their first on home seas. Slingsby and his crew were in solid form in Saturday’s fleet races—finishing first, second and fourth—but had two poor starts in the final two fleet races before Sunday’s final. They did enough to qualify for the three-boat final against New Zealand and Denmark, where they rose to the occasion, though not without some hairy moments at the beginning of the race. Both the Aussies and Kiwis were forced to give the Danes the lead when they crossed the start line too early. The Aussies then chased down the Danes, making their move midway through the race as Slingsby turned his F50 boat inside Gate 3 to take the lead. From there it was literally plain sailing, as Australia collected 10 points and extended their lead over New Zealand in the overall championship to eight points. Cue, shoey.

Slingsby and the Aussies are chasing a fourth straight SailGP title since the event launched in 2019 and even in a career as decorated as his, this victory would have been particularly sweet. You see, it was here, on Sydney Harbour during the 2000 Olympics, that a teenage Slingsby decided that he was going to be a professional sailor.

“I had just quit tennis and was starting to enjoy sailing more,” the 39-year-old, who grew up in Gosford, told Esquire ahead of Sunday’s victory. “I went down and watched the sailing competition on Sydney Harbour and I remember I was cheering for Michael Blackburn in the Laser Class to win and he ended up getting a bronze medal. But it was there and then that I said I want to be a professional sailor and I want to be the first to win a gold medal for Australia in the Olympics in Laser Class. I still remember that train ride home from Sydney up to the Central Coast, writing down my list of goals and how I was going to achieve those goals. It’s a fond memory when you look back at it and I was able to achieve a lot of what I set out.”

Getty Images.

Indeed, Slingsby’s career is distinguished by the amount of silverware spilling out of his trophy cabinet. From that train trip back to Gosford, he would go on to dominate Laser Class, winning multiple world titles and gold at the London Olympics. As you would expect, that victory remains a career highlight. “With Olympic racing, there’s a saying that there’s a lifetime of training in the dark for a moment in the light and that’s what it felt like,” he says. “I missed selection in 2004. Then in 2008 I went in as the favourite, the current world champion, and choked at the Olympics and finished 22nd. Then to have to regroup and rally again to try to achieve my goal, I felt like I had the full journey of ups and downs.”

After the London triumph, Slingsby joined Team Oracle USA as a strategist, helping guide them to victory in the 2013 America’s Cup, before skippering Perpetual LOYAL to line honours in the 2016 Sydney to Hobart race. But when SailGP started in 2019, Slingsby faced a new challenge in the electric pace and intense manoeuvring possible with high-performance F50 foiling catamarans. “I remember when I first joined the league, racing around a tight racetrack with six different boats was thought to be a bit crazy and people said it couldn’t be done,” Slingsby says. “But sure enough, we’ve learnt to do that and we’ve got more comfortable and now we keep increasing teams and we race on even tighter racetracks around the world. It’s been pretty revolutionary.”

Slingsby enjoys the country versus country nature of the event and the opportunity it affords crews to race on some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. That said, like any touring international event, the scheduling can be tough on mind and body. Slingsby and crew saw their training time washed out due to storms in Sydney on Friday, meaning they had to hit the water for the first time on the weekend. “The toughest part is such limited training time,” he says. “We are competing, we finish an event and then the boats get packed up and put on a ship and head to the next event. So we actually never get time to train.”

Image I Rolex.

Like F1 motor racing, SailGP is sponsored by Rolex, a brand with a long association with sailing and a natural fit for the sport, says Slingsby, who wears the Rolex Yacht Master Titanium, a watch he received after taking out season 3 of SailGP. “Rolex are one of the most respected brands in the world and anytime you have a title partnership with Rolex, you know that the event is something to be respected,” he says. “They believe in our sport and they believe that it’s an incredibly tough and very respectable sport. Everywhere we go, that partnership opens doors for our sport, especially Sail GP.”

Alongside his many achievements, becoming a Rolex Testimonee, which saw him join the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and Mark Webber in F1, was a career highlight, Slingsby says. “In the sport of sailing they’ve only sponsored a couple of athletes in a long history and to be included into that, I’m so honoured,” he says. “Anyone I tell that I’m a Rolex Testimonee gasps and says that is possibly the best partnership you could have in sport.”

When he’s not navigating SailGP’s tightly routed courses, you might find Slingsby in a rather unlikely place: the dojo. He has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and says that while charting courses on the water would seem to be a long way from attempting to escape chokeholds on the mat, there is a lot of crossover between the two sports.

“A lot of people probably see it [BJJ] as a bit of a rough sport, but to me it’s like a chess competition with your body,” he says. “Every move has a counter move. If they try to pin your left arm, this is how you counter and this is how you reverse it onto them. I love that game of human chess. Whether it’s on the water sailing and your competitor is not letting you pass, or whether it’s in jiu-jitsu where a guy keeps defending all your takedowns, you’ve got to find another way to win, and you’ve got to find a way to out-strategise your opponent. It’s the same thing. I can’t just work harder and beat my opponent in sailing or jiu-jitsu, I have to be smarter and I have to lure them into a trap or make them think I’m trying to do something else.”

As his career demonstrates, Slingsby is an athlete who usually finds a way to win.

Tom Slingsby is a Rolex Testimonee.

Slingsby, the three-time Rolex World Sailor of the Year lifts the SailGP championship trophy for
the third time last year. Image I Rolex.


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