Welcome to the first installment of “Take Five”: the U.S. SailGP Team’s exclusive inside scoop on the team. From racing to life and everything in between, nothing’s off limits! So let us know from whom – and what – you want to know and we’ll deliver.
First up is SailGP’s youngest athlete, CJ Perez. At 18 years old, she made history as the first U.S. female to race in SailGP when the Women’s Pathway Program was introduced last fall. While most 18 year olds are choosing what major they’re going to study at which university, this young athlete is already enrolled and taking online classes; has moved from Hawaii to Italy on her own so she could be in the Moth sailing world epicenter; joined a 69F team as driver, and has raced with the U.S. SailGP Team in Cádiz, Bermuda, Chicago, Plymouth and Copenhagen … all this is just within the past 10 months.
Here’s our “Take Five with CJ Perez”:
Q: It’s almost your one-year anniversary as a SailGP athlete. What do you remember about your first time joining up with the team?
CJP: I can’t believe it’s almost been a year! Life has changed so much it’s crazy to think about it. I had so many butterflies. I mean, sometimes I still get nervous but back then, I didn't really know how to act. Here I was going into a world of all these full-on professional sailors and I had no idea what to expect.
I remember I was super nervous to meet Jimmy. I mean, everyone calls him the “Pitbull.” And now he’s like an older brother to me. And with the other guys on the team – who I think of as sailing superstars and had them on a pedestal. But now that I’ve sailed with them and spent time, I realize now there was nothing really to be super nervous about. In the end, we all talk about the same things I do with my other teams. It all feels really relatable.
Q: So it’s been like joining ‘any other race team’?
CJP: Ha, not at all! There is no handbook to learn how to race an F50 so you’re just kind of thrown into the deep end and have to learn things on your own – and need to be willing to ask what you might think are the “dumb questions.”
I’m lucky that Jimmy, CJ (Paul Campbell-James), Hans (Henken), Philippe (Presti, coach), and everyone, are always willing to answer my questions and have been helping me learn the boat.
Q: What’s something embarrassing that happened?
CJP: So many things, especially early on when I didn’t know much about the boat! I remember feeling a bit useless in the beginning when I didn’t know what to do to help prepare the boat to get out on the water. Once, I cut our [water] hose in half when I laid it over the foil, and had to confess to the guys, ‘Oh by the way, we don’t have a hose anymore.’
But it definitely taught me just how sharp those foils are! On the bright side, once I mess up I’m like, ‘OK, fine. Let's move on to the next mistake that I don’t know that I'm going to make, you know?’ That’s one way to learn and then to just not repeat them.
Q: What are you most proud of looking back over the past year?
CJP: I guess what I’m most proud of is just getting to where I am with the team and my knowledge of the boat, and how I'm really able to help out as much as I do now. From working extra after debriefs with Philippe on understanding all the data, to coming in early and helping the shore team put the boat together or help make a repair, and just doing everything I can think of to understand how the F50 runs.
When not racing in SailGP, I’m also foiling as much as possible on my Moth, and getting more driving time with the Persico 69 F team [the Clean Sailors Youth Racing team recently finished in 3rd place at the Gold Cup]. I'm putting as much work as I can into doing this and to become the best sailor I can be. I'm giving it all I can and that makes me happy knowing that it’s something I’m passionate about.
Q: What do you hope to happen with the Women’s Pathway Program?
CJP: What all of us need and want is more time on the F50. There is no other boat that we can truly simulate on, so ideally a partner or sponsor comes in that can finally help support the women having more time to train and gain experience in more positions on the boat. Time is our enemy right now. SailGP has these talented female athletes; we just need more time to be learning and doing and mastering the F50.
More to come in future editions. What do you want to know?