The Tom Burton Interview

by Colin Gowland Published on
Tom Burton Interview Laser Sailing

Tom Burton:

Hey. How are you?

Colin Gowland:

Good, man. How are you doing?

TB:

Yeah, not too bad.

CG:

Right on. What have you been up to?

TB:

Just obviously did some training for the World’s and since then I’ve just been cruising, trying to do some other things, keeping busy. Did some yachting, and some boat work. I’ve got a new Moth coming in between a week and two weeks… Things like that.

CG:

Yea, good – we can’t wait to see what the next big move is for you! Looking back a bit,  you won a gold medal in Rio, you’re a World Champion, 12 times Sailing World Cup medalist, the two time Sailing World Cup final champion, six-time Australian National Laser champion… there is a ton of other Laser accomplishments you achieved I haven’t mentioned. It’s such a dominant record. Starting with the big picture, what’s your general philosophy of success in laser sailing – how did you do it?

TB:

From starting full-time Laser sailing in 2008… then we had our Australian sailing squad developed – I got involved in that sometime around 2009. At the time I was the youngest of a bunch of guys that were trying to do what we were doing, which was professional Laser sailing, and I think we all got on together really well – we all had very similar mentalities.

One thing that I remember just constantly thinking about, and saying to a few of the guys, was that I don’t really care if I’m the best in the squad, I just want to try and be the best in the world and the best that I can be.

laser sailing

TB:

So even though there was always a tiny bit of rivalry between all the Aussie guys at that time, we were all pushing together – and it was pretty fun. We all wanted to be at the front, not just in front of each other… and we wanted to be all together kind of thing, all together, everyone. So, that was something that springs into my mind… and that kind of lead to a mentality to always keep pushing and having fun. Then I suppose in the end if you’re good enough, and you work hard enough, you’ll get the results.

CG:

Yeah. About “working hard” in laser sailing, and in all sports, and life in general… it’s a necessary thing maybe, but I think that phrase can have a big range of output… it’s relative. So for example, somebody might think they’re working hard, but if they’re in a certain training group bubble, they might not even understand what hard work really is, or can be. Can you give people an example of what hard work means for you?

TB:

I was always doing a lot of hours and spending a lot of time at the fitness. Basically it’s a full-time job, with my size and body type, my weight, and my height, I always thought that I needed to be fitter than most if I wanted to be fast in the breeze. Especially compared to the bigger, taller guys. That was something that would always be in the back of my mind, that I’d need to work especially hard.

I remember whenever I was talking to my laser sailing coach or a fitness expert, I would always refer to that concept of relativity. It’s very difficult to know how hard you’re working because compared to a fellow Laser sailor, you might be working really hard, but compared to an Ironman or a Tour de France cyclist, you’re doing relatively nothing. I thought, surely if they can put their bodies through crazy stuff like that, I could work harder as well.

Sometimes you get caught in the routine of what you’re doing…  or because everyone’s doing it a certain way, copying it. Or thinking; I’m just going to go a little step above them, and then hopefully I’ll catch up fitness-wise in a couple of years. I was always thinking bigger scale – how can I take it to an extreme level and work as hard as some of these guys in other sports. That said, in the end, you’ve always got to bring it back to your sport – and fitness isn’t everything.

Compare it to cycling – it’s basically whoever can put out the most watts wins, with a bit of tactic involved. But in laser sailing, sometimes it doesn’t matter how fast you go – if you’re going the wrong way it’s not going to help you at all. There were many times where either my coach or another advisor was telling me to do less, recover more, and do less fitness. So, that was a funny place to be, where people think you’re doing too much.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

TB:

Yeah. But over time I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now I have a lot more specificity in the program to arrive at peak fitness compared to what I would have been doing in years past. In the beginning, I went through periods of time where I’d spend hours in the gym, and then didn’t really feel the benefits…  I went through periods where I spent hours on the bike, didn’t really feel the benefits.

There’s definitely a bit where you can train too hard – and we often refer to it as junk hours. There’s that saying, “Don’t count the hours, make the hours count.” You’ve got to be very sport-specific. You often see guys, they looked super ripped and shredded, but they’re still not the fastest out on the water, so there’s something to that, for sure.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And what do you think, to give a ballpark of maybe training hours a week when you think you were overdoing it, or your laser sailing coaches thought you were overdoing it – what kind of hours were you putting in?

TB:

I was keeping a log for a while and basically I think if I did over 25 hours for consecutive weeks I’d get sick. That’s taking into account laser sailing hours as well.

I’d get a cold and just be run down. The hours were getting up there, but from my experience, you’ve got to be aware of where you are in your training program. Often I’d be doing extra fitness on top of the guys I was training with. I’d come to training and just get absolutely smashed. The guys would just be sending me all over the place. I’d get frustrated and you come in with the shits because you’ve just gotten smashed all day, and you feel like you’re a laser sailing crap. But then I guess you’ve just got to realize you’re practicing, fighting, in a very fatigued state, so then when you come to the day that you’re fully fresh, you step up onto a different level a little bit.

I went through it many times where I was just getting smashed out on the water because I’d been run down. If you’re in that kind of mode you’ve got the make sure that you sometimes, you really freshen up. You can’t use “being tired” as an excuse for getting beaten all the time. You’ve got to freshen up and see if what you’re doing is actually improving you. If it’s not, then you’ve got to do something else.

You can’t use “being tired” as an excuse of getting beaten all the time. You’ve got to freshen up and see if what you’re doing is actually improving you. If it’s not, then you’ve got to do something else.

So, you’ve just got to test it, and I’ve tested many types of training programs on myself and I kind of know what works best now, but I think it will be different for everyone.

CG:

Yeah. So, let’s say you’re training 20 hours a week in a certain break down of gym, cycling, and laser sailing… You can’t just really prescribe that for everyone, right? They’re all going to have different things that they have to discover through experimentation and coaching that gives them the best results. Is that just part of the process of becoming the champion, figuring out that formula for yourself?

TB:

I’d say so. No one can figure it out for you. No one knows how you feel, no one knows what you’re thinking, no one knows how you’re feeling energy-wise. No one knows what you want to put in. A lot of people spend a lot of hours doing the fitness that they enjoy, but they might not spend hours doing the bits of the fitness that they don’t enjoy.

You’ve got to really see what’s giving the best bang for your buck. It changes for everyone. Guys that are smaller might spend more time at the gym, guys that are bigger might spend more time on the bike. When you’re doing those different types of fitness, why are you doing those? Are you trying to lost weight? Are you trying to gain weight? Are you just trying to get stronger? Are you trying to minimize injuries?

There’s such a vast range of reasons why you could be doing things and I think if you just gave someone a generic program, they’re never going to get it. And if they can’t adapt it, if they’re waiting for someone else to adapt it for them, I don’t think they’ll ever be the best.

CG:

Right. So if you were getting started in this, you might try something, maybe go with what Blackers wrote in his fitness book, and just see, how’s this going… Then you find your weakness and go after it? Or how would you coach someone to self diagnose?

TB:

I think trial and error can be good, but also it’s slow and it’s fraught with danger a little bit – if you’re trying something that’s not correct you could end up with injuries. So, I think the first place to start is identifying where your weaknesses are, but also learning a bit about training programs and fitness.

When I was younger, I did a personal training degree, so I went through courses in writing programs and stuff like that. Then obviously, within our team, we’ve got strength and conditioning guys that you can go and talk to and bounce ideas off.

So, you’re getting input from professionals on your own ideas. You come up with the ideas, then go and get the input that’s necessary. You’re not necessarily making up things yourself and just trying it. An example could be – I think my weakness is endurance, but I’m too light still, so I need to get more endurance without losing any bodyweight. How can we adapt this program to achieve these outcomes?

If you’re not confident, if you’re expecting someone else to do it, you can still come up with the ideas and then go and get the information you need to help you move forwards.

CG:

Yeah, it makes sense. One of the things that people tend to ask us a lot, is about building up hiking endurance. It just seems to always be painful, and that’s just the nature of it. People want to be able to do it longer and better. What would you recommend for them? Is it starting with cardio and building up in the gym and doing a lot of laser sailing, or combo-ing with the hiking bench? What’s Tom Burton recommended approach here?

TB:

I think it really depends on what level we’re starting at. For me, I was more into the hiking bench, just in terms of getting some more specificity. On the boat, you can cheat a fair bit hiking wise by either hanging on the mainsheet all the time and just sailing around the block to block… and don’t ease the sheet if you’re fatigued. You just can’t do that on a hiking bench. I’ve seen people hiking on the bench and holding a rope. So now we’re training to hold our body up… but we’re supposed to be training to use our cores and our legs… so I was never using anything like that if I was using the hiking bench.

I think it’s all about consistency as well. It’s one of the shittest things to do that I’ve done, but at the same time probably one of the best. I know a lot of Laser people and I’d probably say I’d be one of the people that use it the most. I know it’s shit, and I don’t really want to do it, but once you get in a routine of doing it, it’s not as bad. As soon as you haven’t done it for weeks or months, those first couple of days are more mental than anything to just get over it and get it done.

So, I think about consistency about doing it, but also being within yourself and using the good form – it’s the same sort of thing in any gym program where you want progressive overload. But if you’re not doing it well, stop doing it.

Set yourself a program – one that you can do progressive overloads, so just starting off easier and then every day adding just a little bit more so your body can adapt.

But, when I’m telling youth kids if they want to do it, as soon as they feel their form is going or their legs are going… and you’re basically just hanging there now… and not hiking very well – just get off and recover.

Do it for less duration and have more rests in between, but it just comes back to the saying “Make the hours count, not counting the hours.” There’s no point just doing it so you can write it in your training log, you’ve got to do it properly.

CG:

Yeah. I hear you. You can make the hiking bench intervals like biking intervals – the programs are made to have enough rests to recover, and then you slowly build up the volume. I think a lot of people get the hiking bench and they’re excited when it comes in, and then they use it too much in the first few days and hurt themselves…  then it goes under the bed for a long time.

TB:

Yea, many people with a hiking bench will get the advice “Do it for 10 minutes or 20 minutes.” And it’s like they think they’re talking about 20 minutes straight…. and just hike on as hard as you can and just stay there. In a Laser you don’t often just stay hiking static for 20 minutes and if you’re trying to do that you’re basically hiking 50% or less… and we don’t do that in Laser.

TB:

You’re hiking mainly flat out or close to but you also have things to make it easier, you have waves to sit up to go over, you have the main sheet to hold onto. All of those things help your ankles as well so I think you just need to tailor the program around how your body feels and what it’s capable of.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, if hiking itself on the boat was the most specific type of training for hiking, and then hiking bench, what would be the next most specific or most important one? The gym or bike?

TB:

I’d say the next one would be the bike, going cycling. I think sometimes the bigger guys have a little bit of an edge because they’re often on the bike losing weight – so they can kind of do the next best thing and it suits their program. In the end, I would only go to the gym if I was trying to maintain my body weight and monitor that. That’s how I ended up looking at the gym towards the end.

Just to make sure that you’re not losing too much weight and getting not heavy enough.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the cardio side, extremely important, moderately important?

TB:

I’d say it’s extremely important. I remember the first couple of years I was spending a lot of time in the gym trying to get heavy enough. When I’d go out in the breeze I might be okay for one upwind, then I would just be fully gassed. So I spent many hours improving my cardio. Probably became one of the best in the Laser fleet on the bike. I think everyone’s gotten pretty good on the bike now. Everyone cycles a lot, everyone is pretty handy at it and I think that’s an area that everyone has stepped up a lot.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). We were talking about the philosophy of success… An aspect that we found interesting is the character traits of the champions – certain things that they do, beliefs that they have or things they don’t do. Slingsby talked about things like just showing up on time and some basic things that you would do in normal life, but doing them every time and consistently, etc.

Do you have some ways that you live by or ways that you look at the world that you apply to your training and your everyday life that you think are mainstays or first principles that you live by that are important?

TB:

One of the first things that pop to mind, is that whenever I set myself a task, I find it very difficult to stop until I’m finished. It’s probably one of the bad traits of mine. If I’m doing boat work or making something, or making a hiking bench, or doing anything in my moth recently, it wouldn’t be odd for me to be out in the garage until midnight, until I get it done. I just can’t… I find it difficult to stop until I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve. So that’s just “making something” as a basic example and that is magnified in terms of my training and what I do.

CG:

One of the things Slingsby mentioned in terms of motivation was his rivalry with Paul Goodison and that was something that fueled him. He also said that everyone has to have their own motivation.

Tom Slingsby Interview on Laser Sailing

It’s not necessarily going to be a rivalry every time… but anyway, that was his. Did you have a certain motivation to do this other than you just wanted to, or was there something that was driving it, or something that, even if it was just the end result, that you’d wake up every day and think, “I don’t want to do this but I’m going to do this because I’m dedicated to it for this reason?”

TB:

Yeah, I read that obviously having someone that you want to beat is a pretty good motivation to get up all the time. I can’t really say that that’s something I think about a lot. There’s not one person that I want to beat, I just want to beat everyone and I think one of the things is that I got a lot of satisfaction and motivation off looking at how much effort and hard work I put in.

So, with those training logs, after a long time training you look back and you see how many hours you put in and you remember how hard that was and all the experiences that you’ve done, doing all of that, and that drove me on, and also that was the reason why I wanted to put in all the hard work at the time. I was thinking about, as it started to accumulate, how much time I spent doing it and also what it was leading to… and one of the things was I wanted to be known as was someone that was always hard to beat.

Even though I wanted to win, it’s not the be-all and end-all. You always want to be in the game, you always want people to fear you a little bit and be like, okay, it doesn’t matter how far Tom’s behind in the regatta, he’s having a bad day or a bad couple of days, you’ll know that he’ll be coming out the next day and he could easily win. And that’s something I was working towards, that I wanted to be known as someone like that, with that kind of energy and vibe.

CG:

You said that fitness was a strength for you versus your competition. What were some of your other advantages? Do you think you had a speed advantage out there?

TB:

I think in certain conditions I probably had a speed edge. Maybe some conditions I didn’t. But I think there are a few key things that I learned from numerous people… laser sailing a bit with Slingo and watching him sail. Laser sailing against, and watching guys like Paul Goodison in light air. Taking up bits and pieces, you see how some people do laser sailing and you try and copy their good bits and you just disregard the bits that you think aren’t so good.

Everyone’s got them. There are bits in my laser sailing that are probably really good and there are bits that probably aren’t that flash. In terms of my technique… I think in five knots flat water I had some speed there for a couple of years that was the best in the world, and then also in 15 knots, there were times there that I definitely had a speed edge there as well. I guess, trying to make the most of those when you have them is the key thing.

CG:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). In terms of the racing side and putting together the regatta, even tying in the mental game, is that something that came naturally to you or is that something that you just absorbed over time or did Blackers work pretty hard with you on that?

Obviously you have to be fast, you have to be fit, but then there’s the other part of putting the racing altogether, putting the whole regatta together. How did you develop the ability to do that so consistently?

Andrew Lewis (TTO)’s Comeback Regatta

TB:

I think that probably came more naturally than fitness and boat speed. I definitely probably spent way more time in my career just trying to focus on fitness because at the same time it’s easy to say and you hear it a lot, a fast boat makes a tactician look like a genius. You’ve just got so many options. So that’s why everyone is focusing on fitness so much, just to give you the speed which then opens your options up.

If you’re going slower, and you’ll see it from the guys from mid-fleet to the back of the fleet, there are no options for them. They can only go where they’re allowed to go, and often that’s the wrong way. For me and that’s taking into account the laser sailing hours as well it came a bit more naturally like I enjoy playing games like chess where you’ve got to think one, two, three, four, five moves ahead. You’ve got to set a bit of a game plan and then execute it. Then you’ve got the be able to adapt to when things change and it doesn’t happen like you think it was going to happen.

Yeah, that sort of thing I enjoy, and that’s basically what laser sailing is. And then also, basically just learning on the job. So, every time you go through a situation, being able to remember what happened with whatever move you made last time… if it worked out then you put that in the memory bank and say “Okay, I’ll use that move again.” And if it didn’t you go, “Well, okay. Next time I’ve got to do something different because that was crap.”

In terms of debriefs and stuff, I’m not a huge note-taking person… so I don’t really write down notes or anything like that. I always have the mentality that if it’s important, I’ll remember it, and if it’s not and if I don’t remember it, it’s not important. So, yeah. Just learning and basically having it in my mind – it’s a playbook of moves, so every time you come to a situation you can pick from a few different moves and you know the percentages of which ones are going to work, and which ones have a lower percentage.

… It’s a playbook of moves, so every time you come to a situation you can pick from a few different moves and you know the percentages of which ones are going to work, and which ones have a lower percentage.

Then you’ve also got to have in the back of your mind what’s the other boat is trying to do… or what’s the situation of everyone that you have arrived in this situation with you? What are all their goals and what would you think they’re trying to do?

Then you can decipher all of that, then make the decision, and then you’ve just got to adapt from what happens and basically it’s just a rolling algorithm really – you make a choice and see what happens and at the end of the day you try and make the highest percentage decision to help your results – and that’s where consistency comes in.

CG:

Okay, maybe shifting just a little bit more back to the era of the AST. Can you just speak to the dynamic, how it all felt or evolved between yourself, Blackburn and Slingsby… and they were obviously coming 2012 off Slingsby’s Olympic gold and then there was the transition into your dominance. What was that environment like?  Was it competitive, was it cooperative, any crazy stories, stuff like that, that people might want to hear about?

TB:

Yeah, so basically I think it all started around 2009-ish. Obviously Slingo had just gone not very well in Beijing, so Blackers now went from radial coach to the full rig coach and the squad began. Slingo was more doing a lot of training overseas and just doing regattas to get more light air regatta practice I think was the key thing.

But, from the squad point of view, we were all at a level that wasn’t high enough for Slingo basically. We were all at an equal level together but he was a big jump ahead of us all. So, Blackers was working with us as a squad in Sydney and then we’d basically meet up with Slingo overseas at events when we did a campaign.

Then basically it was just like a war of attrition and last man standing… so throughout 2009, 2010, there were many guys coming and going within the squad. There were different age groups, different guys at different parts of their life in terms of studying or not working, or working. A few different faces, a few different names, and then basically I got into AST in 2010 – so then at the time it was Slingo and myself in AST and then a bunch of the guys in the squad.

Then 2011, 2012 I made a big step up. Like, we were all getting better in the squad but I made a big step up in terms of World’s results and things like that. Another guy as well, Ash Brunning did as well and in 2011 we had three in the top 10 which was a big improvement from the two years previous where we were a massive step behind Slingo, to being able to be worthy training partners.

Then in 2012, we were able to train more with him. At the same time, he had got the Olympic selection already so there was no threat there… so it was all upside really. We had strong training partners in Australia and there was no competition really left in terms of Olympic selection or anything like that, so then we got to do a lot of training with Slingo which was really fun. I did especially. Going between basically Weymouth and Garda.

I remember some pretty fond memories doing that and then basically after that he went to America’s Cup and then I took over the reign from 2013 onwards and went on a bit of a dominant run. Ironically that’s when they were changing a few of the formats, trying to change the regatta formats a little bit in terms of medal racing points and that sort of stuff.

I remember getting dicked a few times with that sort of point system but, yeah. Then, as the campaigns switch over into the next Olympic cycle, we had a bit of a turnover in guys in the squad. So, some of the older guys in the squad moved on and then we had younger guys coming up in the build-up to Rio and then I guess it was game as usual until 2015 where a very similar thing happened.

That I was doing the Slingo basically what Matt was doing to me – slow improvements, chipping away and then basically by the time it came to Olympic selection time, we were very close. So we still had a strong squad but then we had two guys that were really close at the top. Obviously, I got selected and then after that continued on and basically it was the same for another three years, with a lot of the guys in the squad improving and then two guys at the top fighting it out really.

CG:

When you and Slingers were battling and at the top, I guess you weren’t a threat to the spot… but you were still trying to be the best Tom Burton you could be. Obviously he’s a super driven guy and so are you. Do you think he was instrumental in pushing you harder or what was specifically his impact on you as a Laser sailor?

TB:

He never really said anything super special but just me being me, watching how he acted, watching how he sail, just watching his mentality, was all I needed to fine-tune myself really. Often, towards the end, as I started to get better results and a bit better speed, and I could do what I wanted when I wanted to do it, which is basically the level he had been at for many years…. we often found ourselves on the course. I’d be starting next to him in the middle of the line… so you reduce the risk, you’re backing your boat speed, you’re backing your fitness, and often people didn’t want to start next to him because he was too quick –  so you would have half the line of space next to him and everyone else would be jammed up at the end and I just figured, oh, that looks like a good gap for me and basically I remember at one Weymouth regatta, every time I wanted to start, I’d be next to him and off we’d go.

But yes, some funny moments as well. He was more focused on the Olympics and trying to sort all of that out so I remember he had this dog of a boat at the time. We launched one day and he forgot to put his bung in so it was like 5 knots and we were going downwind and I was just sailing away from him and he was going, “What the hell’s going on?” And realized he hadn’t put his bung in, so he had the boat up on the rib, trying to empty as much as he could. Then we just continued offshore and out of the harbor way and joined a big group of guys. Had a good day and on the way in we swapped boats and basically if I was in my boat and even though I might have a little bit on him, and then if we swapped boats he would just sail away like it was just ridiculous.

So that was pretty funny. But yeah, just little things like that but there were other times that he just couldn’t get it right and he’d snap his tiller extension and I’d sail off because I just didn’t want to get yelled at. Those kinds of memories are pretty funny and just to see how much it obviously meant to him and how hard he must have been trying. How much energy you need to put in to try and improve on something and if it’s not working, you’re allowed to get frustrated, but you obviously can’t let it go too far, you just get back on the horse type thing and keep going.

CG:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Just going over to the Michael Blackburn part. Is there something that he helped you with the most, or if he had an impact on you in a certain way, what do you think that would be? Would it be on the technical side more or was it a fitness thing, or mental game or some kind of character building or logistics? What was his role in your specific time with him?

TB:

He is very good at logistics but often then I would just let him do that and I could just copy. [laughs] No it’s not, I’d have to say the mental game. For everyone that knows Blackers, most people think he’s a unique character, which he is. Something in laser sailing that’s very important, some people have it and some people don’t, but to be able to keep a level head no matter the situation. Something that he’s very good at.

You could go and win a race at the World’s and you’d never won a race before in your life and you’d be ecstatic and you wouldn’t even be able to pick it from him. There’s absolutely no change in his demeanor. Then, the next race you could come last by half a leg and he’d have the exact same demeanor when you rock up to the coach boat next to him.

So, it keeps you on a level head, you don’t ride the roller coaster as much as what I would see other people do, with the excitement of getting something right and maybe winning and then the low of making a mistake and getting a bad result. You’re just not on that rollercoaster as much. I think as athletes and sailors ourselves, we do that enough to ourselves. If we have a good result you get a bit excited, if you have a bad result you get a little bit down.

So, it keeps you on a level head, you don’t ride the roller coaster as much as what I would see other people do, with the excitement of getting something right and maybe winning and then the low of making a mistake and getting a bad result.

Tom Burton Olympic Gold Medalist Laser Sailing

I think if you see that from the laser sailing coaches’ side as well it just magnifies it and it’s probably something you don’t need. So, I think that’s the biggest thing that you’re just learning from the mistakes or the success of each race, moving forward to the next one. At the same time, just thinking back now from hindsight, it’s one of those things, I remember people asking me how I felt after winning at the Olympics and stuff and I think without the lows you don’t have the big highs as well.

When you start to… not suppress your emotions, but kind of look at everything as a level head, and keep everything very neutral so you don’t ride the roller-coaster, sometimes potentially when you want to ride the roller-coaster, it’s quite difficult to because you’re so used to keeping your head level and not really letting your emotions take over. So, it’s one of those things that you’ve got to learn and I think now, even just in normal life I’m very level headed because I’ve just done it for so many years and that’s how I’ve just ingrained it.

I’ve spent a lot of time either living with Blackers or traveling with Blackers and that’s just how his personality is. And it wasn’t necessarily how my personality was but I learned to do that because that’s what best suits my laser sailing and it carries over to your normal life so when something exciting happens at home sometimes you’re keeping that level head at home, it’s just one of those things you’ve got to manage. You’ve got to use it when you want to use it and you’ve got to try and turn it off when you don’t want to use it.

CG:

I was reading in one interview that you played Rugby and some other sports when you were younger. Did those have any shaping influence on how you see laser sailing…. you mentioned chess, but the other physical sports, did they have any influence on your laser sailing in some roundabout way?

TB:

I think the obvious would have in a roundabout way. Like I played rugby to a reasonably high level, as high as you can when you’re bloody 16 or 17.

The training behind that, you’re training for three different representing teams so you’re training most nights of the week and in terms of your expectations of how much effort you put into something. When I was that age, that was what you’re training for, that was all I cared about. So, I guess when you then switch that off and go full-time laser sailing, to spend all the hours and everyday thinking about one thing is not too dissimilar to what I was already doing growing up, for rugby.

I guess from that point of view then it probably helped massively. Already having some coaches at different representative levels, transforming that into the laser sailing where you meet a new coach and you try and improve and you try and communicate with someone new when you’re still pretty young. I’m sure that would have helped.

I worked with the general fitness, I don’t think rugby fitness translates over the laser sailing at all but just in terms of some cardio fitness and stuff like that, I’m sure it would have helped.

Yeah, I think as well a little bit of, obviously going from rugby where it’s a team sport communication to basically everything by myself, a little bit different but I kind of like that. I like having everything rely on myself and no one to blame except yourself really. I enjoy that.

CG:

If you could think of something technical about laser sailing that even you see guys at the high level, that they miss out on or they don’t know, or they get wrong a lot? Like maybe at the bottom of the gold fleet or silver fleet or something like that, can you think of a technical thing or a tip that comes to mind?

TB:

No matter who I coach, often I’m just walking around the boat park and I’ll look at things. It’s hard when you’re in that environment, it’s hard to turn your brain off but I always say to people, with the Laser it’s such a difficult boat to sail fast. It’s an easy boat to sail, it’s a difficult boat to sail fast so any bit of your energy you’re trying to transfer it into making the boat sail fast. So, if there’s anything that’s not 100% on your boat, and you need to expend energy to either make it work better or fix it, that’s the energy that you’re not being able to put into making your boat go fast.

If your rudder is not down all the way or can’t do down to the maximum then you might have more weather helm so that’s taking some of your energy out. If your blocks and your ropes are old and you’ve got to put more energy into being able to pull vang on or cunningham on, that’s the energy that you’re wasting that you’re not going to be able to put into making your boat go fast.

If your centerboard is coming up all the time, even though mine does, people will read this and be like, “Mate your centerboard comes up the most.” Stuff like that where your hike and your centerboard come up and you have to kick it down, that’s an effort in that you’re not hiking and you’re doing something else.

Little things like that, like if your main sheet is in a knot and you’ve got to spend time mucking around with that, that’s time that you’re not sailing your boat as fast as you can. All these little things, it’s very difficult for anyone to really care about them on their own, but as soon as you add them all up, it’s massive things that if all those things were going wrong at one time, you basically can’t sail the boat.

Because there are so many things that you have to be fixing. Often there are only a few ways that you can set up your controls but people have them all differently. Basically, I was always trying to do the most efficient thing, the most simple thing and the things that could make the boat the easiest to sail. In terms of even when it comes to taller height. If your tiller is too high, your traveler can’t get across as easy, it gets jammed, your tack is a bit slower, every time you tack it’s a little bit slower than someone else that’s got it optimally set. All those little things add up. Sometimes the difference between getting first around the top mark and tenth could be like a boat length because you’re either going to cross someone of you’re not.

At the end of the day, that’s the amount of distance that we’re fighting for and if you’re not trying to fight for that distance then you’re never going to hit the front because that’s what the guys at the front are fighting for. It’s metered, it’s not boat lengths, it’s just metered.

At the end of the day that’s the amount of distance that we’re fighting for and if you’re not trying to fight for that distance then you’re never going to hit the front because that’s what the guys at the front are fighting for. It’s meters, it’s not boatlengths, it’s just meters.

CG:

Fighting for meters. It seems like a good point to end off on!  Tom, it’s been really interesting chatting with you.

TB:

Yeah thanks, Colin.

CG:

We’ll be in touch. Thanks, Tom.


Check out Tom’s thoughts on our new Online Course!

“I wish I had a course like this when I was younger, growing up trying to improve my sailing skills and before I had any access to coaching. I remember watching DVDs of sailing all the time but for someone to break each step down would have been very useful to progress quickly.”

 


Colin Gowland

Colin began coaching for ISA full time in 2015 and has been evolving his Laser coaching methodology on the ISA team ever since. His coaching style has been described as patient, methodical and analytical.


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