Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Valencia Sailing talks to Adam Minoprio

The young New Zealander match racer talked to Valencia Sailing on the eve of the Open de España Match Race in Calpe. Continuing the tradition of his small island country, Minoprio and BlackMatch came aggressively into the World Match Race Tour and won their first ever event in their second year in the circuit. Minoprio talks about his past, the present and his future in the Tour and, why not, the America's Cup. BlackMatch and the other 11 teams trained on Tuesday under, unfortunately, light and shifty conditions.

Valencia Sailing: Let’s start with a brief overview of your sailing background. I suppose, like most kiwi sailors, that you started in a very young age.

Adam Minoprio: I grew up in a farm in rural New Zealand. My father bought my first Optimist and we used to travel on weekends to the coast in order to have a little sail. From there I went on to race Optimist and started competing in Optimist events. I can’t remember too much of it right now but I really enjoyed it and wanted to do more each time. When I was 11 I won the New Zealand Optimist nationals and then went to the 1997 Worlds in Belfast. That was really my first taste of international sailing and from that point I felt I wanted to do more and really get into it. After that, I continued sailing the youth classes in New Zealand and went in a few more championships.

When I was 17 I joined the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron LION FOUNDATION Youth Training Programme. They have ten elliot 6m boats and they teach you how to sail keelboats and get you out on keelboats on Wednesday nights in southern Auckland. From there I was introduced match racing and went to youth regattas in Australia and America. I really enjoyed that and I learned about match racing, the World Match Racing Tour, the America’s Cup. I learned about all the top-level professionals, the lives they lived and led and thought it would be exciting to get into that. When I finished the youth training program in 2006, my mates and I decided to set up our own team, race in regattas, work our way up and hopefully get in the World Match Racing Tour. We developed a 5-year plan whose ultimate goal is to win the World Match Racing Tour in 2010.

On each step of our plan we decided we knew how much money we needed to raise. In the first years we had the support of Line 7 from New Zealand but after a couple of good results, people took better notice of us and FedEx joined us. All of us were students and last year was the first one we toured Europe full time. We started getting our act together, did very well in various events and ended up finishing the World tour 4th overall, something far beyond what anyone of us hoped to do. Our aim is to improve even further.

Adam Minoprio and BlackMatch Racing train on the eve of the Open de España Match Race. Calpe, 21 April 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Valencia Sailing: You are yet another top sailor from New Zealand that comes out of the youth training program. Is that the key to your nation’s success in sailing?

Adam Minoprio: The youth training program is the key to what you learn as a young sailor. It shows you what you can achieve and inspires you. We have figures such as Cameron Appleton, Gavin Brady and a bunch of others that went through the youth programs, sailing in the America's Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race the Farr 40 Worlds and many other top races. It shows what you can achieve if you put the effort. We also have great facilities, good boats and excellent coaches. It is the best you can have if you really want it and put the effort.

Valencia Sailing: This is now your second year in the World Match Racing Tour. How difficult was it for a young crew like BlackMatch Racing to compete in this level?

Adam Minoprio: Last year it was rather difficult. We were new and had never raced the other guys before. Some of the teams had been competing for more than 10 years while we went to Europe for more than couple of weeks for the first time. You know, when we had to race people such as Magnus Holmberg or Peter Gilmour we were impressed. We tried to do our best and last year was our learning year. Our mission was to learn as much as possible. We had a couple of good results and improved in each and every event. The more we improved, the more confident we got and in my view, success in the Tour is a combination of confidence and experience.

Valencia Sailing: The big breakthrough came last month in Marseille when you won a Tour event for the first time ever. How difficult was it? Did you expect it?

Adam Minoprio: We didn't expect it in the J80 class because the previous time we sailed a J80 boat we didn't have a huge success. We were hoping to compete and definitely get into the semifinals. It would have been a disappointment for us if we hadn't made it to the semis. It was a very tough field in Marseille and getting through to the quarterfinals was a big achievement. Then Ed Baird picked to race us in the quarter finals.

Valencia Sailing: That was a fatal error he committed.

Adam Minoprio: [Laughs] Yes. Last year, in every event we made it to the quarterfinals we were the team that others picked to race against. So, we wondered if that changed this year. When Baird picked us, he probably failed to notice that each time we were picked in the quarter finals we won. Of course, at the same time we were aware we had to race the America's Cup winner. It was a very tight match and to beat the America's Cup champion was a fantastic reward. Still, even after that victory we knew it wasn't over because we had to race 2 French guys that had lots of experience in J80's and were very competent match racers. Being in the semifinals and having achieved our goal we were able to sail much more relaxed and just enjoy ourselves. I think this is why we managed to sail very well and beat them.

Adam Minoprio and BlackMatch Racing train on the eve of the Open de España Match Race. Calpe, 21 April 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Valencia Sailing: What aspects in the World Match Racing Tour do you like and what do you think could be improved?

Adam Minoprio: What I like is that we go to a lot of fantastic locations to sail, a lot of different boats, there is a lot of fantastic people on the Tour and it's awesome racing everywhere you go. With the prize money we can make ends meet, so we can have a fun year, we are still young and don't have any mortgage payments to do. We are having a good time doing what we love. Hopefully we can go further from there. The only thing we don't like is that our home is in New Zealand, so we don't have home here in Europe. We are nomads traveling around. If we were Europeans it would be easier, we could go home between the regattas. That's the one part that could probably get us down a little but is also a motivation to succeed and in between the regattas we try to find other boats to sail so that we have less down time.

Valencia Sailing: Is it difficult to find sponsors for a team competing in the World Match Racing Tour?

Adam Minoprio: It is always hard to find sponsors but we had our sponsors not knowing we would have entered the Tour so we are pleased we ended up getting it. I think it would have been easier if we knew we had an entry in the Tour but, definitely, with the amount of TV coverage and the media the World Tour attracts it will be easier to find a sponsor.

Valencia Sailing: Let's talk about the future by mentioning three names. Russell Coutts, Dean Barker, Adam Minoprio. Is this the line of succession to the helm of the Team New Zealand America's Cup boat?

Adam Minoprio: [Laughs] I can only hope. It's going to be a long time before we even join this list of names and there is still a tremendous amount of work we need to do. It's a dream for the moment.

Valencia Sailing: Is it something you aspire to, you look forward to?

Adam Minoprio: This is definitely a goal.

Valencia Sailing: How difficult would it be to jump from these match racing yachts to an 85-90ft America's Cup yacht in, let's say 2-3 years? Do you have helming experience in bigger boats?

Adam Minoprio: I have driven some boats of that size, Maximus, a 100 footer, in New Zealand. I'm hoping to try and get more experience on bigger boats. I've done a few offshore races in 50 footers. It's going to be quite a long time before I get the opportunity to helm an America's Cup yacht, so I will be able to get a lot more experience.

Valencia Sailing: You have the support of Emirates Team New Zealand and its logo on your shirts. Does that mean you have any contractual obligation with them or could you go to any team that knocks on your door?

Adam Minoprio: I'm not signed up with Team New Zealand so I don't have any obligations. They have supported us and helped us get entry into World Tour events last year and as a result, we are very grateful to them. Ideally, being New Zealanders we would love to sail with them first. It's definitely our priority but you never know what could happen.

Valencia Sailing: Last but not least, Torvar Mirsky, the other antipodean young gun. Is he your toughest rival? Would you rather race against him or Peter Gilmour?

Adam Minoprio: They are both Australians so there is a lot of rivalry across the Tasman. He is another young guy on the Tour, he is of my generation of sailors and there will certainly be a lot of competition between us. We are good friends and we enjoy racing him, especially as of lately. Still, we wish him as much success as we have. Having another strong young guy adds value to the World Match Racing. There will is lot of competition and we always like to come out on top.

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