Few sailors are as genetically predisposed to sailing as Andrew Campbell, 26, of San Diego. Both sets of grandparents were E-scow sailors, and his parents—both active J/105 sailors—are highly encouraging of their son’s Olympic dreams. Andrew’s father, Bill Campbell, has sailed in three America’s Cups (1983 with Courageous, 1992 with America3 and 1995 with Nippon Challenge) and currently serves as the commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club. Because of this upbringing, the Cup and high-end sailing have been a part of Andrew’s life for as long as he can remember. Andrew started sailing when he was six and worked his way up through the ranks of junior sailing, winning the Youth World Championship in 2002. He then attended Georgetown University where his commitment was to the sailing team; his senior year, 2006, he was awarded College Sailor of the Year, as well as Georgetown’s prestigious Athlete of the Year. An Olympic campaign in the Laser was up next, perhaps peaking with the 2007 Olympic Team Trials, off of Newport, Rhode Island, where Campbell beat out Brad Funk in a tiebreaker for a berth on the 2008 US Olympic Team. Following the Games, Campbell matriculated to Stars, where, as a rookie, he’s been racing at an exceedingly high standard—5th in the 2009 Worlds and 11th in the 2010 Worlds—in arguably the world’s toughest class using a chartered boat. He has teamed up to campaign for the 2012 Olympics in Weymouth, UK, with veteran Star crew Brad Nichol. Campbell was recently honored with US Sailing’s inaugural Best Performance by a Newcomer award. I caught up with him to find out more.
Congratulations on recently winning the US Sailing Newcomer of the Year award. Did this surprise you, considering how long you’ve been involved with US Sailing?
I laughed at it at first as I’ve been on the team every year from 2001 to now, except 2004. But the reality is that I’m flattered by it. The awards are new and they’re a great way to get more eyes on the sailors and the team.
What drew you to Lasers instead of two-man boats when you were younger?
I was better suited to Lasers, size-wise. I was 6’ and growing. I started in Radials and then switched to Lasers. But the whole time I was sailing Lasers, I was also sailing two-man boats in high school and college. With Lasers I could practice as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about wasting other people’s time. But I’ve always enjoyed double-handed sailing.
I’ve heard you call the 2007 Olympic Team Trials in Newport, RI your hardest regatta – not the 2008 Olympics?
Absolutely, [the Team Trials] were difficult. Sometimes regattas don’t shape up the way you want them to. The competition at the Olympics is thinner than at a world championship. The Olympic fleet is smaller, with a core of really good sailors. At Newport there was so much pressure, it was a long event, windy, and physically demanding. The mental aspects of it were draining.
After the 2008 Olympics you switched from Lasers to Stars. Can you tell me about the impetus behind this decision?
I can’t say enough about how good the Laser was for my sailing. I learned how to train there properly. But I was ready for a class that better suited my skills, which are tuning and tactical. Stars are a great choice. I’d seen other guys make the jump, so I knew it could be done. And, I wanted to switch to keel boats.
Lasers are certainly a tough class, but Stars are typically seen as the world’s hardest class — what’s the transition been like?
The Laser is the toughest class far and away! Think of the availability—this provides a huge pyramid base of sailors. The trouble with a career in the Laser is that physically, you can’t compete at a high level forever. Stars are different; you can sail there forever. There are a lot of pro sailors who race Stars, and it’s a lot of fun to race against those guys. Transitioning hasn’t been that hard because both classes are so hard. With Stars, no matter where you go, there are teams there who are capable of winning.
You have done really well in the last two Star Worlds for a rookie. How are these regattas different than high-end Laser events?
It’s really intimidating [in Stars] when you don’t know the people—when you’re not sure who to give credit to. Previous [World] winners fly a gold star on their sail. It’s intimidating to go race the world’s best. With Lasers, all the preparation is done as most big regattas provide boats. With Stars there is some training but you need [your boat] to be set up properly. You need to be patient and have a longer attention span. It suits my style of sailing.
With Lasers the class is strictly One Design. Has the transition to a more open class been hard?
It’s been really enjoyable. It’s fun to see the variations within the Star [one-design] rule. [When sailing,] it’s unbelievable to see how small an adjustment you can make to create a huge sailing difference.
What are the biggest differences between skippering a Laser and a Star?
Patience. The Laser is a much more physically orientated boat. You move your body and the boat reacts. With a Star it takes more time for it to react to what you want it to do. The feel is the same [between the two boats], but I find it more rewarding to use my brain and not my brawn [on a Star]. Upwind on a Star, the boat is the limiting factor; on a Laser your body is the limiting factor. Downwind, the boats perform quite the same. But it’s a cool experience to work with a great crew on the Star.