Jimmy Spithill made history by becoming, at age 30, the youngest skipper to win the America's Cup, but his sailing success goes far beyond that. The Australian native is one of the most decorated sailors in the world.
If there were two things that led to Spithill becoming one of sailing's all-time greats, they happened early in his life. Living in a small town called Pittwater, north of Sydney, Australia, virtually surrounded by water and with no access by road, Spithill's home was only accessible by boat, so sailing became an everyday necessity.
"It was a way of life to spend hours on the water," he says. "It's like a surfer growing up at Sunset Beach."
Fast forward to one of the most monumental achievements in world sailing history: The crew of Australia II became the first team to wrestle the America's Cup from the New York Yacht Club in the Auld Mug's 132-year history in September 1983 – and crew members Colin Beashel and Rob Brown just happened to be from Pittwater. The celebrations went on for weeks and set in stone the young Spithill's ambition to emulate his local heroes one day.
"I was only four but I remember the impact that win had on our entire country,” Spithill says. "Two of the crew members were my neighbours and I worshipped them and wanted to be just like them."
He won his first race at age 10, with his eight-year-old sister as his crew, and he was later named Youth Sailor of the Year. That victory was just the first of many to come.
Spithill continued winning more races, with many predicting he would one day achieve great things. A steady rise through Australian sailing onto the world stage followed. He debuted in the America's Cup as a skipper at age 20 with Young Australia, becoming the youngest helmsmen in the revered race's history, and then had stints at the helm of the Oneworld, in 2003, and Luna Rossa Challenge in 2007.
"The greatest thing about this sport is people judge you on your skill and talent, not your age," he says. "I was lucky as I have always been surrounded by great people."
In 2010, Spithill made his mark on the sailing world by becoming the youngest-ever winner of the America's Cup, as helmsman and skipper of BMW Oracle Team 90. "It was relief and ecstasy, like a huge weight came off my shoulders," he says about his 2010 win.
Three years later, in 2013, Spithill led one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever, as Oracle Team USA came from 8–1 behind to overcome Emirates Team New Zealand 9–8 to claim his second America's Cup victory.
"That was very satisfying," he says. "It took the entire team to have an attitude of never giving up and looking after their team-mates."
Named the Australian Male Yachtsman of the Year more than once, Spithill has several world titles to his name and has even got into stand up paddleboard racing, completing the legendary Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Championships in Hawaii. But sailing is still his main passion, born from his childhood days in a home surrounded by water.
"Sailing is very difficult and hard," he says. "That's why I love it."Read more