The above photo is from my spec music video password: BRMC

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why You Should Have Watched the America's Cup

Sailing.  Not exactly the most exciting spectator sport for most people... including me.  In fact, the other day I was flipping channels on the television and came across a mono-hull sailing competition playing at around 2AM.  I have to admit, it was so goddamn boring.

But as they've continually said throughout the recent racing taking place in San Francisco Bay, "This isn't your grandfather's America's Cup".  No, this is an example of pushing a sport to the limits so much that it pisses off the traditionalists and makes the Coast Guard step in to order to prevent more people from dying in accidents.

Even if you're not a fan of sailing (myself included), you have to be drawn into the drama and high stakes nature of this America's Cup.  (go Google "America's Cup" to see pictures)  Gone are the traditional single-hull sailing ships you're used to seeing boringly slide through the water.  Gone are the off-shore racing locations visible only to people who can afford yachts.  Gone are... well, traditions.

What do you see now?  

Elite sailing teams working on multi-million dollar, 72-foot catamarans that literally fly above the water - yes, they hydrofoil high above the water reaching speeds up to the mid 50's (mph, yes mph not knots).  These guys have to work and run across a ship that's usually going 30 to 40 mph and can flip up on one side when turning.  To put it into perspective, imagine working a team on a moving truck flatbed going 20-50 mph that can flip up on one side when turning - and then you have somewhat of an idea...  Only here, you have water flying into your face and also an opponent hell bent on passing around you.  In fact, the stakes got so dangerous that an Olympic sailer was killed earlier this year when a catamaran flipped over and the Coast Guard stepped in to push for a wind limit.  

Keep in mind, these are wind powered boats, people, not speedboats where you safely sit in a cockpit.

But regardless of the "extreme" physical nature of this race, you have to appreciate the drama.  

One week ago, last Wednesday, Team Oracle USA had only one point.  Team New Zealand had 8.  All New Zealand needed was to win one more race (1 point each) and they would take back the oldest trophy in active competition - shaming the Americans.

But then something happened.  Team Oracle USA played a delay card and had the rest of the day to tweak their boat and crew.

And then they came back the next day.  And the USA began to win.  And win.  And win.  

One race loss by USA, one big mistake and the regatta was over.  

Thursday.  Win.  Friday.  Win.  The weekend - Two Wins.  Monday.  Win.  And on Tuesday... the improbable happened.  

Two more wins.  The series was now tied 8-8 points...  And only one more race to settle it all.  

How many sports can boast a 7 streak comeback over 6 days in a championship series?  A flawless performance for almost a week by an eleven man crew while the world watched and nation of New Zealand was on its toes?  One week ago, they were preparing "goodbye" barbecues for New Zealander fans.  One week ago, people were leaving, thinking it was over and this race was a comical "bust".

How do you motivate a team buried in such a big self-inflicted hole - "only... 8 more wins guys!"?  How do you dig yourself out and keep yourself cool?  One mess up and all those years of work... gone.

As a person who works in storytelling for a living I can tell you:  this is drama at its best.  High Stakes.  Danger.  Plots with unprecedented twists.  

And also larger-than-life characters.

Traditionally seen as a sport and cup funded by rich white men, frankly, it still is.  The America's Cup has been populated by names that grace the history books and the shelves:  Vanderbilt, Lipton (tea), Louis Vutton, Prada, and now Larry Ellison (Oracle) - larger than life ego's fighting one another through "sport".  Forgive my crudeness, but let's be honest here, this competition is probably the most prestigious and expensive dick-measuring contest on the planet.

The first America's Cup in 1851 had an American schooner (cleverly named "America") sail to Great Britain.  There, in front of Queen Victoria, the American team beat the best the British Royal Navy had to offer - they beat the Empire that had ruled the seas for hundreds of years.  To Europe, this should have been a hint at the rising power that was growing across the Atlantic Ocean.  The "child" of Europe had come back to beat its parent at what it did best.

But, "What about the Olympics", you say?  Keep in mind there were 9 America's Cup competitions before the modern Olympics began in 1896.  Yes, this is an older active competition.

Fast forward to the present.  For almost 140 years, the American team for the Cup has been dominated the New York Yacht Club.  But now, it's the San Francisco Yacht Club.  You have to appreciate the big-picture historical importance here.  The power has once again shifted.  

The West Coast.  Silicon Valley.  Tech Companies.  I maybe biased in my opinion, but the future of this world is being determined in San Francisco right now.  And just like how the power of the United Kingdom faded in front of Queen Victoria's eyes, the power of the US East Coast is waning right before our eyes.  

In fact, the race is being held in San Francisco bay in a Bay Area kind of way:  High tech multi-million dollar boats pushing the limits of physical world.  Humans pushed to extremes.  A race accessible for viewing by anyone in the city.  Sounds pretty trademark San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

High-tech television coverage.  Cameras on, and even under, the boats.  Chase helicopters and speed boats film from every angle.  It's thrilling.  

And all you have to do is watch and enjoy as history is being made.  All you have to do is sit on a pier down by the Bay and watch sailboats rip each other apart between the iconic Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco skyline.

It's rare to see something that reflects the times so much and is intertwined with such good drama.  This is the story of a stuck-up traditionalist world disgusted at a hubristic billionaire challenging the status quo.  This is Moneyball.  This is 2013.  

This isn't your grandfather's America's Cup.  Nope, this isn't even sailing.  This is drama at its best.

And if you missed it, you can always watch it on Youtube.

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