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Foiling Into the Future

Should San Diego win its bid to host the next America’s Cup, two of the sport’s key sailors, one a superstar and the other on the rise, would be competing in their own backyards.


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Photography by Jacqueline Campbell

Next time you’re walking the dog along the footpath at Kellogg’s Beach, or grabbing a beer in North Park, you might be rubbing elbows with two of the best professional sailors in the world. Both America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill (right, above) and his new crewmember Andrew Campbell now live and train in San Diego. And both do so largely under the radar. “I love it here,” Spithill says. Campbell, who moved back to San Diego after sailing in college at Georgetown, adds, “There’s a huge lifestyle advantage to living here, being able to be outside all of the time.”

San Diego is one of a few home bases for Spithill and his SD-native wife, Jennifer. Spithill originally hails from Australia, and the couple lived in San Francisco with their two boys before the 2013 America’s Cup. San Diego is one of two finalists in contention to host the next America’s Cup in 2017 (Bermuda is the other). And while the city has a history of defending the Cup here, it isn’t Dennis Conner’s race anymore. Far from it. The multimillion-dollar hydrofoiling catamarans reach speeds of 40 knots and are outfitted with the most advanced technology the sport has ever seen. Oracle Team USA has an active social media presence and, perhaps most appealing, a youthful star power in Spithill and his crew of fresh talent like Campbell. “There are no big egos,” contends Spithill. “There’s no room for that. Everybody works hard.”

Hard work during the last America’s Cup led Oracle Team USA back from an 0–2 deficit, winning eight straight races to beat Emirates New Zealand. Some say it was the greatest comeback in the history of sports. As the skipper, Spithill appeared everywhere from the Today Show to Sports Illustrated to The Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert was unabashedly a fan. “I invited him to come out sailing, and I think we’ll get him out here,” says Spithill, who noted that hanging out with Tom Hanks in the green room before the show was a highlight of his post-win media tour. 

Factoring in the team’s historic comeback, new hydrofoiling boats that are a tad smaller and cheaper, plus an easygoing, handsome star in Spithill, the Cup has a chance to overcome some of the flak it took in San Francisco. The city ladled out pots of money to host the races without attracting the number of challengers and spectators it had hoped for. “The future is foiling,” the skipper explains. “The speed is incredible and that’s the way to get the kids excited.”

For his part, Campbell’s new to the crew. A young American who grew up in the junior program at San Diego Yacht Club (and whose dad, Bill Campbell, sailed in three previous America’s Cups), he’s enjoyed a successful college and Olympic career. He and his Washington, D.C.-native wife, Jacqueline, settled in North Park earlier this year. Its walkable, bikeable streets and hip restaurant scene eased the transition from a big East Coast city back to San Diego. “It’s cool when we have people over for dinner,” he says. “We can just walk down to Thorn Street Brewery and fill up a growler.”

So, does the fact that these two world-class sailors live here help San Diego’s chances for getting the Cup? “Those conversations happen at much higher levels,” Campbell says. “I’m just here to compete and sail.” Spithill won’t comment, either. “They’re both really great venues,” he says, tactfully. “Fans will get a great show in either bay.”

Oracle Team USA will announce the prevailing venue next month.

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