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Live Ocean Racing's Liv Mackay on her pathway to a professional sailing career

by Fleur Mealing, BillieNZ.com 4 Jul 01:40 PDT 4 July 2022
Liv Mackay driving - NZSailGP team in a practice session ahead of SailGP San Francisco - March 2022 © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

New Zealand SailGP's Co-Pilot/Tactician and Live Ocean Racing's ETF26 skipper, Liv Mackay (26) talks to BillieNZ.com's Fleur Mealing, on how she broke into professional sailing.

Liv is yet another top New Zealand sailor who began their sailing career outside Auckland, as did Live Ocean co-founders, Olympic Gold and double-Silver medalists, and double America's Cup winners, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.

She started sailing with her brother and father as "a fun family activity at the Napier Sailing Club."

What did your pathway towards starting your career look like?

My pathway to professional sailing has been quite different from others in the sailing industry.

I grew up on a farm, almost in the middle of nowhere and it was fifty minutes away from the ocean, so naturally sailing wasn’t the first sport I was drawn to. As I mentioned, once getting started I really enjoyed the community of people I had around me which kept me going back.

Four years down the track and I started to get more competitive, realising I had great potential to progress professionally. Once my competitive side took over and I learnt to grasp every opportunity that came my way, it all kicked off. I started representing New Zealand and from there my career flourished.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Honestly, everything about racing for the SailGP New Zealand Team is amazing!

I’m surrounded by incredibly talented athletes, such as Peter Burling and Blair Tuke who are the co-CEOs of the New Zealand Team. Working with athletes like them helps enhance my skills and means I’m consistently learning something new.

As a global sailing league that races at iconic locations around the world, the opportunities I have with SailGP are incredible, from touring the world to working with the best athletes in the industry, it’s a surreal experience. Right now, I’m in a very fortunate position and I’m loving soaking in all the knowledge and improving my skill set.

What’s the hardest part?

Although I love travelling and I’m so grateful for the experience, I do miss my family and friends when I’m away from home. Last year during COVID made it especially hard as it was difficult to get home with lockdowns and isolation rules.

What surprised you most about your job once you started working?

When being immersed into the world of SailGP, the first thing I noticed was how much of an intense environment it is. Lucky for me, I love the intense, fast-paced environment but it’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. From travelling and training, to racing and debriefing, there is never a dull moment.

What does an average day look like for you?

When I’m on site at a Sail Grand Prix event, I generally get up and do some form of exercise. I like to move my body and stretch as it’s important to be mobile. I then take time to look at what the day ahead has in store for me, it’s important to know the conditions on the water and what we’re working with.

Ahead of racing, we always have a team meeting, then get the boat ready to head out on the water. After we’ve been on the water, our coach, Ray Davies, will have a session planned for us where we analyse our performance and talk strategy. It’s a long but rewarding day!

What advice would you give to those looking to follow a similar career path?

This is a great question as I do believe the sporting and more specifically the sailing industry is changing a lot right now, especially for women. Initially for me, there was a huge hesitancy to commit to sailing due to uncertainty of a professional career and I know this was the same for many of my friends.

However, I think now it’s slowly shifting, especially with the likes of SailGP who champion diversity and are helping fast-track the inclusion of female athletes in the league. My advice would be to not be afraid to fully commit and give it your all, especially when you’re young.

Something else I’ve learnt over the years is that you don’t have to be good at everything, try and do one or two things really well so you don’t over commit or exhaust yourself.

What are the biggest challenges in your opinion to getting into sailing?

As a woman, the biggest challenge for me personally has been learning to back myself and making sure I don’t let my insecurities get the best of me.

I think when you’re trying to succeed in a heavily male-dominated environment, it’s natural for females to hold back and not put ourselves out there as much as we should.

Throughout my journey, I’ve learnt you need to back your skills and yourself, while doing everything you can to upskill.

What kind of skills does your job require?

This is a hard question as you need a lot of different skills. One skill that has helped me is having a strong drive and desire to always learn more. Interestingly, another skill I’ve learnt that has been key to my success is putting my ego aside and accepting I will always have things to learn. In the New Zealand SailGP Team, I’m surrounded by strong athletes that have been sailing and competing longer than I have.

With this, I’ve learnt to not be embarrassed if there’s something I don’t know and to take every mistake as an opportunity to learn. Working as a team is another key skill as you need to work well together to race well together.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

The best thing is it doesn’t feel like a job, sailing is my passion. It’s a privilege to work in the New Zealand SailGP Team and I love everything about it, on and off the water. It’s hard and intense work but that’s what I enjoy. The opportunity to perform under pressure and experience being involved in a world-class sailing league is a crazy feeling.

For Fleur Mealing's full story in BillieNZ.com click here

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