One of New Zealand's most promising female sailors hopes the 2021 Youth America's Cup can lay the foundation for more equal opportunities in the sport.
The event, which will run in parallel with the America's Cup next year, has been recalibrated for this edition, with teams mandated to have two females as part of their four person crew.
It's a big step, and one that is long overdue, according to Olivia Christie, who is an accomplished Laser Radial sailor and won the Sir Peter Blake Trophy in 2018, joining an illustrious list that includes Peter Burling, Jo Aleh and Sam Meech.
The 23-year-old was named in the eight-strong Royal Akarana Yacht club preliminary squad on Tuesday night, one of two local entries for the Youth America's Cup.
Christie was thrilled to make the cut – from 33 applicants overall – and proud to be part of an emerging group of talented female sailors in this country.
"It's historic for us girls," said Christie. "It's the first time that girls have had an opportunity to be on these boats and a lot of the older Olympic girls are saying they wish there were younger and could do it. The realisation we are doing something that hasn't been done before is exciting."
Quota-based selection – of any kind – in sport can be polarising but Christie feels it is a necessary and vital initiative.
"It's fantastic, it's the only way to make changes in sailing because we don't get the opportunities otherwise," said Christie. "It needs to happen at the moment and hopefully one day we will all get the same opportunities. Right now we don't and we need them to be able to progress our careers."
At junior levels boys and girls often compete on an equal footing, but that parity isn't always evident in senior grades. There are opportunities for females in the Olympic classes – Christie has qualified a boat in the Laser Radial class for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – but much less so at the professional levels. The World Match Racing series has often been a closed shop and there have generally been very few options for women in major events, like the America's Cup or Volvo Ocean Race.
"For same classes it might always be needed – especially if they are physical classes," said Christie. "Because otherwise people will just go to the guys, just based purely on brute strength, rather than looking at the talent of the sailors.
"Often there is only one pinnacle competition – like the America's Cup – not male and female like football [etc] so we have to be able to compete on that level."
Aside from the difficulties of navigating a career path, sailing can also be tough for young girls starting out, with the mix of competition and the differing maturity levels of the sexes not always ideal.
"For a lot of young girls going through the Optimist (dinghy) [class] it can be a bit of a struggle," said Christie. "There is an interesting culture that isn't always [ideal]. It is getting better but it is not always the best.
"I think a lot of young boys don't realise how their actions can impact young girls, [they] don't understand that what to them is a joke is actually quite hurtful. I guess a bit of bullying and things like that throughout my younger years was difficult but I had other sports. It wasn't my only sport."
On a couple of occasions Christie wasn't sure she wanted to continue with sailing, but that changed when she moved up to the Laser class.
"There was a much more mature group around me and I realised that sailing could actually be really fun, with some cool people involved. I've always loved the challenge of it."
Born in Wellington, Christie is a product of the Worser Bay Boating club. She was introduced to the sport as a five year old, 'helping' her parents as the third hand on a Sunburst they had bought. Her natural aptitude was demonstrated in the dinghy, before she progressed into the physically demanding Laser class.
"I was big enough and it felt right," said Christie, "So I didn't really want to go back."
She steadily progressed through the ranks, realising it was the right path when she was selected for the Youth World Championships in 2016.
"I was the best youth female laser radial sailor in the country," said Christie. "It was an awesome boost for the confidence levels."
After a couple of years of "commuting" to Auckland for training, Christie decided to move north in 2018. But rather than contend with the horrendous housing market in the Queen City, her lateral thinking family found a nautical solution.
"We bought a small yacht, and I'm living on board … it's the way to do it in Auckland I think."
The 10 metre Alan Wright designed boat has been Christie's home for the past two years, berthed at a local marina. There are some drawbacks, as floor space is virtually non-existent, there's no freezer and room in the fridge is limited, while Christie needs to use the toilet and shower facilities at the marina. But she's extremely content.
"It's a pretty cool life really," said Christie. "I can get away at weekends and it works nicely.
"It's much smaller [than a flat or house] but heats up very quickly and I've got a three burner oven to cook on. It seemed like the way to go."
Christie and her teammates can expect a busy few months. They need to be directly involved in fundraising to meet the costs of the campaign, and will take a leading hand in logistics and organisation. They'll also be out to impress on the water, as only four can make the final cut for the Youth America's Cup, which will be raced in locally designed and built nine metre foiling mono hulls, constructed to identical specifications.
"It's a totally new class of boat and we are all learning as we go and as we train," said Christie. "It's a lot faster than a Laser, and with foiling as well it's a steep learning curve.
"[But] for me this is a unique opportunity and it can only be done once. I will be too old for the next one so I'm really keen to get on this team and will put everything towards it."