Mar 08, 2016

Queensland entrepreneurs’ quest for the Cup

Three renowned Queensland identities – each a pioneer and internationally recognised in his area of expertise – have teamed up to head a bid to bring the America’s Cup down under.

The trio and their supporters are not considering entering a boat, they are determined instead to bring the tourism, media and branding bounty of this global event to the Gold Coast.

This is no ordinary consortium. Though their sailing ambitions may be relatively recent, between them they hold over 100 years of experience in private enterprise, sporting achievement at the pinnacle of their pursuits and unrivalled connections in government, business and at a consumer level.

Tony Longhurst, former champion motor racer and Australian champion waterskier, is CEO at The Boat Works in Coomera’s marine precinct.

Rodney Longhurst is owner and CEO at Riviera Australia, the highly-awarded motoryacht builder also based at Coomera and exporting to the world.

Steve Ackerie is the CEO and founder of the Stefan chain of hair salons, now numbering 50 and was also six-time Australian Offshore Powerboat Racing Champion. He owns and operates Stefan Boating World and like Tony and Rodney, has stamina to burn!

Considered among the founding families of the Gold Coast, noteworthy for their vision and sheer tenacity in getting the job done, the Longhursts cut their teeth on building landmark ventures, among them the iconic Dreamworld theme park.

“We want to pitch the Gold Coast as the ideal host city for a preliminary event in the lead up to the 2020 America’s Cup,” explained Tony Longhurst, convinced the Gold Coast has the assets and attitude to welcome the world’s sailing elite, their entourages, sponsors and the tide of avid spectators that follow the America’s Cup.

“It would be a massive windfall for the Gold Coast, a yachting paradise. Hosting a preliminary event to the America’s Cup would bring an influx of affluent tourists to our region and capitalise on the momentum generated by the 2018 Commonwealth Games. We will have the infrastructure and we definitely have the natural attractions the world sees as authentically Australian.”

This is no pie-in-the-sky attempt.

Buoyed by the avid crowds and international media attention during the Extreme Series Sailing held in Sydney in December 2015, Tony is prepared to activate his contacts acquired over a life-time in motorsports and his network of sponsors and supporters. So impressed by the speeds and spectacle at the Sydney Extreme Sailing Series, Tony invested in one of his own, which he will use to woo the corporate crowd, media, sponsors and VIPs, on the Gold Coast Broadwater, at Hamilton Island Race Week and at events on Sydney Harbour.

“Imagine those America’s Cup foiling catamarans doing 80kms per hour – that’s nearly three times windspeed – with the backdrop of Surfers Paradise and the rest of our beautiful coastline!” said Tony.

Known as the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, this thrilling racing circuit featuring the world’s best sailors competing on foiling, wingsailed catamarans that literally fly on the water’s surface.

At every host city, the Race Village becomes the epicentre of entertainment and enjoyment, where visitors can literally rub shoulders with the sailing teams, get hands-on and experience of sailing, savour the excitement as performers and presenters create a buzz that is equal to the exhilarating on-water competition.

“Oman in the Middle East held the first round of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in the last week of February and it brought global attention to its location as a coastal city,” said Tony. “The presence of the America’s Cup and world-class sailors inspired the entire nation, attracted thousands of visitors and gave the Sultanate of Oman the chance to showcase its culture.”

According to organising body, Oman Sail, hosting the event was aimed at “raising the Sultanate’s profile as a high end tourism destination using its centuries old traditions with the sea as a platform to promote its sporting, cultural and economic potential”.

Rodney Longhurst travels the world for boat shows, visiting Riviera’s network of dealers and nurturing the “Riv family” which for 30 years has proliferated on every continent.

“Australia is no longer remote,” he stated. “We believe it’s feasible and would bring incredible benefits to the region.

“We have the climate, the waterfront, the outdoors lifestyle, the blend of beach and Hinterland, proximity to capitals and New Zealand, an international airport and Brisbane close by. The Gold Coast is safe, clean, high-tech and we love big events!”

As if that offering were not enough, tourists would be motivated to visit the Gold Coast for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series lured by the “Bucket List” of activities available in Australia.

“There’s the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays, the country towns and the desert, as well as those quintessentially Australian experiences such as cuddling a koala, diving, surfing and bush walking. It can be 5-star or backpacking, that’s the beauty of the Gold Coast and Australia.”

Steve, who was involved in Brisbane Expo 88 and saw Australia unite for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, believes their bid will have the support of the broader Queensland and Australian community.

“When Aussies get together with a common passion and goal, nothing can stop us,” said Steve. “The America’s Cup is world-class and it’s this fame and spotlight that follows it wherever it travels that the Gold Coast can capture and really shine to a new level.

“This is a journey. This is step one.”

The 35th America’s Cup

There is no greater challenge in sailing than the America’s Cup – sporting’s oldest international sporting trophy. It’s a tradition Australia has contested valiantly, tasting victory in 1983 with Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, designed by Ben Lexcen and owned by Alan Bond, ending a 132-year stranglehold by the New York Yacht Club. Then in 1987, Perth famously hosted the defence, Kookaburra III sailed by Iain Murray lost to Dennis Connor’s Stars & Stripes and Australia farewelled the America’s Cup.

Since then, our sailors, including defending skipper, Jimmy Spithill, make up more than their fair share of crew in the America’s Cup teams. Ironman legend and Olympian, Gold Coast’s own Ky Hurst, is Spithill’s teammate on ORACLE Team USA. Today, Iain Murray is America’s Cup Regatta Director, responsible for format, scheduling, safety and regulations.

In 2017, the 35th America’s Cup will be held in Bermuda, reputed to be the ideal venue for its natural amphitheatre, proximity to spectators, mild climate and great offshore wind conditions.

In the wake of a sensational 34th edition in San Francisco in 2013, memorable for its high-tech coverage, record-breaking spectator numbers and global audience, and ORACLE Team USA’s comeback from 1-8 down to beat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8 – a comeback declared the greatest in sporting history – the event has won over a new generation of fans.

Bermuda is bracing for its own dose of Cup fever, undergoing unprecedented investment, development and advance bookings ahead of the 2017 onslaught of sailing aficionados, those who just love the sight of the fastest sailing craft on earth in close combat, or visitors just seeking sunshine, socialising and a tranquil tropical backdrop for this world-class spectacle.

Tony Longhurst, Steve Ackerie and Rodney Longhurst.

The Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series travels the globe in the lead up to the main event, Bermuda 2017.

Oman was the first time the Middle East had hosted the America's Cup, making the most of the global media attention.

The Gold Coast will host the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and is the ideal yachting event venue.

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