Peter Burling has had so many accolades - including a few marriage proposals - since he brought the America's Cup back to New Zealand that it takes something out of the ordinary to impress him.

On Monday, nearly 1900 students performed a powerful haka in his honour at his old school Tauranga Boys' College that hit home to him on a deeply emotional level.

So much has happened to Burling since he last did the school haka himself as a student back in 2008.

"It is pretty cool because you have been sitting there before. It is just as much my past as their future," he said.

Advertisement

"I definitely remember doing that haka to a few other people who have come in to talk to us so it was pretty special to receive that."

Burling is getting used to dealing with all the attention he gets on a daily basis but the quiet, shy boy from Welcome Bay would rather just be out on the water with his mates.

"The profile is part of it but I definitely prefer the sailing side of it more than that side. It is probably easier talking to a press conference in Bermuda about the sailing than that [Tauranga Boys'] audience," he said.

"But it is part of what we do as successful sportspeople in this country."

There were plenty of anxious moments on that stupendous journey to America's Cup glory over Oracle Team USA in Bermuda that captivated New Zealand.

A lack of money initially to fund the campaign, equipment failure and then a broken wing from the much-heralded capsize in the Challenger Series against Team Great Britain that nearly ended it all.

"The hardest moments were in New Zealand before we got to Bermuda. When we launched our new boat I'm not sure how much the media knew about the boards we broke and bits and pieces," Burling said.

"We would look at the timeline and think of how much we had to get through to even get to the start line with pretty competitive appendages. But once we got to Bermuda and had been through so much to get everything ready, it didn't seem much was going to trip us up at that point as long as we were quick enough and as long as we sailed as well as we knew we could.

"It was definitely a bit of an unknown how fast [Oracle] were going to be. In the end we took about the right amount of risk to have a boat that was pretty quick and held together."

There are just enough superlatives to give due credit to Burling's sailing achievements. At just 26 there is not much in the sailing world he has yet to conquer.

He won his first national title when he was 12 up against boys aged 16, his first world title when he was 15 and became the youngest New Zealand sailor to compete at the Olympics when he contested the Beijing games in his final year at Tauranga Boys' College in 2008.

When I was a kid growing up, sailing dinghies was a lot more of a track pressing down to the Olympics. That's what we wanted.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

That year he attended just 20 weeks of the school year but still performed well academically. Getting the balance right between training, competing and relaxing with people like his great mate Blair Tuke has always been a priority for Burling.

After school he completed most of an engineering degree at the University of Auckland before world domination in the 49er boat with Tuke took over, including a record sequence of wins and Olympic silver and gold medals.

And then came the America's Cup.

It was always going to be Burling's job as helmsman once Dean Barker was ousted after the disastrous campaign in San Francisco four years earlier. Burling stood up to defending champion Jimmy Spithill and won all but two of the crucial pre-race starts in Bermuda.

By the end Spithill was a broken man and Burling the newly anointed sailing king.

But Burling rates the 49er success with Tuke higher than the America's Cup feat.

"When I was a kid growing up, sailing dinghies was a lot more of a track pressing down to the Olympics. That's what we wanted.

"So it is going to be a special memory for a very long time how we won in Rio and hadn't been defeated for that four years beforehand and just dominated the whole way through.

"That we won the Olympic gold with a couple of races to spare is something we will definitely look back on with fond memories.

Team NZ member Peter Burling with the America's Cup during the America's Cup parade held in the Auckland CBD. Photo/NZME
Team NZ member Peter Burling with the America's Cup during the America's Cup parade held in the Auckland CBD. Photo/NZME

"But then to bring the America's Cup back home pretty soon after was a pretty special thing as well, with how much it means to the country and the marine industry. Everyone who has supported you in your youth gets a big benefit out of it."

Burling took very little time after the America's Cup regatta to get back out on the water. It is where he is happiest, at one with the tides and the mental strategies of racing.

He headed straight to Italy to the 2017 International Moth World Championships that he had won in 2015 against the America's Cup captains and helmsmen.

"I had organised to have a boat there for a long time and was undecided whether I would go over for the week and sail it and have some fun. It had been pretty hectic here with all the parades so I took off up there and it was a really fun event.

"A lot of friends were doing it as well and it was pretty cool to get back in a little boat and knock it around a bit. The toughest thing for me was every other event you do you have done so much practise and are so well prepared.

"With that I was so not prepared and it was pretty interesting to try and make sure your boat stayed in one piece. I was pretty happy to get second under the circumstances but would definitely have pushed harder to win it if I had time to do a little bit of work."

Winning on the world stage consistently over so many years in many different classes of sailing is something only an elite few have done.

But then to bring the America's Cup back home pretty soon after was a pretty special thing as well, with how much it means to the country and the marine industry.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Perfect preparation has always been the key to Burling's success and was at the cornerstone of the America's Cup triumph.

Rather than be intimidated or freeze on the big occasion, as Team New Zealand did in the ill-fated campaign in San Francisco, Burling thrives on pressure and adversity.

"You do get used it. It is something I really enjoy now, those high-pressure situations. You have to perform to win any event and there is always a moment when you have to step up and perform. You have to learn the best way to do that and to be yourself.

"Everyone is quite different but for me I make sure I have done everything I can prior to the event, so you can go out there and have fun but have a lot of trust and belief in your processes and the things you have done in the past.

"If you do the little things well then there is no point getting too worked up about it and the results will come from concentrating on the process."

Despite all the success in his extraordinary career so far Burling is not one to sit back and reflect on how well he has done. Far from it. There is still an unmistakable hunger within him to take on new challenges, to push himself out of his comfort zone and see what develops.

Sailing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race is the ultimate test of a sailor's courage, mental strength and ability to perform in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.

It is no place for the faint-hearted but Burling is more than up for it as part of the crew on board Team Brunei.

"My next venture is some offshore racing which is something quite different. In my career so far I have done a lot of in-shore stuff, a bit like sailing in the [Tauranga] harbour and around the world in small keel boats.

Rather than be intimidated or freeze on the big occasion, as Team New Zealand did in the ill-fated campaign in San Francisco, Peter Burling thrives on pressure and adversity. Photo/file
Rather than be intimidated or freeze on the big occasion, as Team New Zealand did in the ill-fated campaign in San Francisco, Peter Burling thrives on pressure and adversity. Photo/file

"I am going to learn a bit more about the other side of the sport. The Volvo Ocean Race is going to be some pretty interesting times going down to the Southern Ocean. It gets pretty cold down there with the water down to five or six degrees.

"It is definitely a race of attrition. Some of the longer legs go 30 to 40 days and it is a unique thing with a group of people trying to race a boat as fast as you can for that long a period. We have a watch system of four hours on, fours off, four hours on. By the end of it you are pretty sleep-deprived and pretty broken.

"The communication between people is crucial to ensure you are open and honest, who is too tired, who can keep pushing."

There is no doubt Burling's will be the first hand up when volunteers are called for to do extra shifts.

He is always learning, always challenging himself and those he sails with to become even better than they have been before.

It is just what he does.