Tom grew up in Koolewong with his twin sisters, Alana and Jess. His father sailed with the Gosford Sailing Club and, from the age of seven, Tom began sailing with his dad on Brisbane Water, then competed in the twilight races, and progressing to junior classes. He just loved to compete, whether it was tennis, sailing, or even playing cards.
Surprisingly, his early love was tennis not sailing, and his goal was to be a professional tennis player – his mum was a keen tennis player – and his idols were Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Tom practised in the mornings at Woy Woy tennis courts on the way to school at St John the Baptist.
He later went to high school at St Edwards in East Gosford, training at the Gosford courts.
A little before the Sydney Olympics he realised he was not enjoying tennis as much as he had, and his training sessions dropped down from twice daily. Then his dad took him to watch the 2000 Olympic sailing races on Sydney Harbour, and the sights and excitement made him realise that this is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
‘I love a project and a goal,’ says Tom. ‘I’d write my goals on a sheet of paper on my bedroom wall and after the Olympics those goals became,
Compete in World Title
Win World Title
Win Olympic Medal
‘To get used to ocean sailing, I sailed out of Terrigal Haven. And I’d watch sporting documentaries, and could see all the successful sportspeople had the same mentality, the will to compete and to win. I always want to win so badly, and I have that drive in my training too, the drive that gets me out of bed every morning to run and get fitter. I don’t handle losing very well so you have to turn that feeling into a positive lesson learnt.’
It’s a matter of history that Tom went on to achieve his goals as well as a few he hadn’t dreamt of. He not only sailed in the winning Oracle team for the 34th Americas Cup in 2013, but has been a five times world champion in Laser dinghies as well as in the Etchells class in 2010.
He skippered the supermaxi Perpetual Loyal to win the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 2016.
And did we mention he won Gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Laser Class?
He was made the Australian Institute of Sport’s Athlete of the Year in the same year, and in 2014 was awarded an OAM for his service to sport.
Tom is still an ambassador for Gosford Sailing Club, and in competitions when he needs to fill in the name of his home club, it’s always ‘Gosford Sailing Club’.
After achieving so much in sailing, Tom decided to try his hand at the F50s, the fastest yacht class on earth, in catamarans that exceed speeds of 90 km sailing out of the water up on their hydrofoils.
‘Sailing an F50 is different to sailing any other boat,’ Tom is quick to say, ‘ It’s Formula One racing on water. But once you master the technical differences it all comes back to sailing, reading the wind, and tactics.
‘Someone asked me what the difference is between the super cars and F50s. I said, “similar, but we don’t have brakes”. You stop by stalling the sails and dropping off the foils – intentionally or unintentionally – but it can lead to injuries when you’ve been going so fast, so we try not to fall off!’
From the age of 17, Tom’s sailing career has taken him all over the world, and from 2014 to 2017 he lived in Bermuda, then came back to Australia to live in Terrigal before moving to Sydney to skipper the Australian super-fast F50 team to victory in the inaugural SailGP competition. He’s now Skipper and CEO of SailGP, and his beloved English Bulldog, Nala, is getting used to having him home a lot more.
Covid has given him time to relax, and time for himself. He considers himself lucky that sailing in single-handed boats fitted in with the self-isolation rules so he tried to get out on the water several days a week in a 12 ft Moth that also sails on hydrofoils.
‘I enjoyed getting back to basics, albeit at a slightly slower speed,’ he says. ‘They’re a good training tool for the F50, the nearest you can get to the much bigger and faster F50s.’
What does Tom have up on his bedroom wall chart these days? ‘I always want to compete, though a time will come when I’m not physically able to compete in very physical boats. As the team CEO for SailGP, I will have to recognise when that time has come for me to stop. I enjoy the management side of things which I’ve been doing for a few years now: I enjoy running a team, getting the right personalities together, working on the training programs.
‘The Central Coast has had a massive influence on my life. It gave me a humble, down to earth attitude that helped me deal with competing in the big races overseas, and with the success.’