Beat the boys
Hawaiian sailor CJ Perez has racked up a string of dinghy sailing national and world titles and earned herself a spot on the United States SailGP Team – and she is only just getting started.
Growing up in Hawaii you might expect that CJ Perez to have been involved in some way or other with boats and sailing since she was a toddler. But in fact the 20xx WASZP US national champion was the grand old age of 13 before she properly got bitten by the sailing bug.
“I don’t come from a sailing family like many of the top sailors do,” Perez explains. “My mum and dad aren’t sailors and my sister and brother don’t know much about it either – so I wasn’t introduced to it because of them.”
That’s not to say she was completely impervious to the delights of sailing back then. She remembers being surrounded by sailboats as she grew up and thinking they were really cool – but other sports were vying for her time and attention too.
“I was trying lots of other sports but none of them really stood out to me,” she recalls. “Then I tried sailing and I really loved it.”
Her first sail was in a small one person O’pen Bic, a class in which she rocketed to success, becoming in 2018 the first female sailor to win the North American Championship – a feat which she followed up by winning back-to-back world championship titles the following year.
After a bout of two-person 29er sailing, Perez graduated to the one person foiling WASZP class in which she scooped the USA national championship title in 2021.As well outperforming her rivals on the water she was involved in the work to optimize the WASZP foil shape and design.
Her success in the WASZP got her noticed by double America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill who wasted no time in recruiting her for his United States SailGP team as part of the SailGP organisation’s women’s pathway programme.
Understandably the then 17-year-old Perez jumped at the chance to join the US squad but the international circuit’s age restrictions meant she had to wait until she turned 18 before she could be with the team in person.
That meant an agonising wait of half a year during which time she missed six events around the world before she finally joined the team in Cadiz, Spain at the end of 2021.
“I would be watching it on TV and thinking ‘I really wish I was there’,” she says. “But even though I couldn’t on site I was still connected with the team. I talked to our coach Phillipe [Presti] a lot about the data, so I was able to get familiar with the F50 through that before my first event in Cadiz.”
Perez turned 18 the week before that event and describes sailing on the American F50 catamaran as ‘the best 18th birthday present ever’.
“I mean come on, going 50 knots at a reaching mark, that’s the best thing you could ask for,” she laughs.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to SGP Insider to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.