Jimmy Spithill won his first sailing race at the age of 10. In the three decades that have passed from that moment he has accumulated various other victories and is one of the most decorated sailors in the world. w the Australian would like to add to his outstanding CV as skipper of the United States SailGP team.
In its third season, the racing league includes 10 national teams from around the world and is considered F1 on the water. Teams ride aboard a 50-foot hydrofoil sailing catamaran designed for intense racing and capable of going up to 60.
Jimmy Spithill joined the US team in their sophomore season and helped lead the crew within reach of the grand prize after finishing last the previous season. It was a big step for the new side, but the veteran knows it will require a lot more work if they are to continue to challenge the Aussie team, who consider Spithill to be the benchmark in the league and last season's winners.
Muscle and Fitness spoke to Jimmy Spithill about how the sport of sailing has changed and what it takes to be successful on the F50 foiling catamarans.
Courtesy of SailGP
Jimmy Spithill isn't your grandfather's sailing league
I think when people originally think of sailing, they probably think of jumping onto a crashing yacht, grabbing a gin and tonic and kicking back in a chair. It's very different now with the physical demands, the decisions of how quickly to make them and the consequences of getting it wrong, how serious it can be.
The things we're going through now are exactly what motorsport goes through in terms of safety and collisions, the gear that guys wear and the training that you have to go through. The most important part today is that you can't leave a stone unturned. You're looking for every competitive advantage you can get. If you look at all the individual guys on the teams, they're all great athletes and they all have a range of skills. Ultimately, in this style of racing, you just want to be as consistent as possible. You can't race at such a high level with the data available when everyone is in the same boat and not making mistakes. You really have to try to average it. You have to be consistent and if you can make it onto the podium then you kind of go all out. It's definitely a stressful environment.
When I started there was no foiling - certainly in terms of technology. The tools you had for analysis and debriefing were rather rudimentary. If you look at the boats now, they can reach four times the wind speed and literally fly across the water. While it's a good problem, you also have so much data that there's too much. Part of the trick is really focusing on the right areas to extract the key information. The other big change in my career is the fact that now you can have the best people in the world on the same gear, but you can see everyone's data and they can see ours. We're all recorded live with microphones during the race, there are cameras strapped to the boat and there's no hiding. It's a fascinating thing because what it produces is very good racing. It's an amazing thing to be a part of. With all this you push each other so much that the learning and the level you reach is definitely the highest I've seen.
Jimmy Spithill feels unwell during practice
Everyone trains a little differently depending on their role on the boat. What I personally like to do in training are things that exhaust me a bit or put me under pressure and then I have to make a decision. I've always enjoyed a variety of things that make me uncomfortable and stressful.
So I still box a lot for hand-eye coordination. I don't spar anymore but a lot of the pads and getting to that point of exhaustion is what I focus on just to stay sharp because ultimately there are going to be a lot of times out at the circuit where you are you will be stressed and you need to make split second decisions and you need to do it together. The more you can put yourself in situations where you have to make decisions when you're stressed and exhausted in training, the more prepared you'll be when the moments come.
I've definitely tried different things. You have to have variety and try new things. To grow you have to be open-minded. At the same time, one of the great things about technology is that there's always something new or different. For example, we're pretty lucky in the US team, where we have Red Bull as one of our sponsors. They have a huge high performance department that is part of their company. If you look at the stable of athletes they have in all different sports, the ability to connect with the other athletes on the roster, the ability to spend time with the high performing teams, especially the mental side of understanding how the brain works when you make mistakes - it's remarkable. The most important thing is really the culture in the team. You really have to have a culture where everyone is really willing to let their guard down and put their ego aside and ask the questions, what can I do better and what will help the team? We worked pretty hard on that with the US team.
Jimmy Spithill trains smarter after 40
I'm in my early 40s now, and when you're younger you can pretty much go flat out all the time and not have to worry too much about what you're putting into your body. In 2013 I started getting a lot of injuries and I did a lot of different sports. I did CrossFit competitions, boxing, paddleboard races, and long-distance stuff. A surgeon friend of mine advised me to get examined. I went and got tested to understand what my body was responding to. I found out that my body can't handle a lot of things. It was never really enough to stop me, but there were things that just didn't sit well with me. One thing was sugar and the others were dairy, gluten and whey protein. It was then that I was drummed into thinking that a whey protein shake is the best way to recover after a hard workout. For me, that was probably the worst thing you could do because a lot of these things were causing inflammation in my body that was affecting my recovery and sleep. If you put shitty gas in a car, it won't run as well. After eliminating these, the gains were amazing and exactly what I was able to achieve with this diet change.
A good night's sleep is hard to come by
It's definitely a struggle and I travel a lot. I race and work in different parts of the world. I'll be in Australia, then back in California, then in Europe and we have a global track. All the teams experience coming to what might be a place after a long flight and they're only there four days and they have to perform and get out. Without a doubt, the sleep cycle is a struggle, but once you learn and understand some of these hacks that work well, it all adds up. It reminds me of when you're training for a sport and trying to add up all the little things. It can make a pretty big difference on the racetrack, and the same goes for your sleep and recovery routine. All those little things, the diet, the rest, the stretching and going to the sauna and ice baths, it all goes into performance. The more recovered you are, the better decisions you will make and you'll be able to process things much more quickly. One of the joys for me is that what we're doing is really tough. Everyone has the same challenges and that's what makes winning so rewarding. You are all pushing each other and you are also growing as you go through this.
Courtesy of SailGP
t much time to practice
I think SailGP is a bit like Formula 1 where there is a real training constraint. The boats basically come in, you get two days of practice, you race on the weekends and then they pack up. So like in Formula 1, when the boats aren't racing, they're going to the next venue. That alone makes it challenging for a new team that we are. Some of us have never raced together and you're competing against teams that have been sailing together as a unit for years. I think we have a fantastic group. The Australians are probably the best example as they have spent most of their time racing and sailing over the years. But with the right approach, work ethic, support, staff and coaching, and a thorough review of the data, you can make really good profits. We will definitely focus on that this season.