Roughing It

Who's David Liebenberg? Good question. American Youth Sailing Force's David Liebenberg, isn't quite sure either. But he's about to find out.
Sailing World


ASYF’s David Liebenberg sorts the cables. Sam Greenfield

“Damn, the digital display worked just fine before we left tthe train in Newport, but now the GPS isn’t reading …”
David Liebenberg is hunched over his latest creation at his workbench in the American Youth Sailing Force office: a homemade GPS-boundary system.

The rising Tufts University senior is the team’s mechanical engineer; his workspace is a cramped cubicle tucked away in a far corner of the American Youth Sailing Force’s single-room office. Flanked by duffle bags and power strips, Liebenberg’s desk is littered with wires, soldering material and Glutamine tablets. Every night the office transforms into the team apartment, and at least five sailors pile onto couches. David sleeps on a cot. A pair of khakis and David’s ‘Aloha Force’ shirt lie draped over his office partition as a reminder for tomorrow’s fundraising event at Tiburon YC. I spring a Q&A on him.

How did you guys break into high-performance sailing?
We’ve all grown up sailing, against or on boats that belong to the Skiff Foundation, a Bay-area 501C3 that’s been around for 15 years. One of the reasons we’re so good at rigging as a team is that all of the boats end up in pieces because people break them. They’re not new boats. The rule is if you can rig a boat you can learn to go sail it. So early on in our mind it clicked: “I need to learn how to splice, I need to learn how to do composite work and be able to look at a problem and see what it needs to fix it, go out, get the supplies and go fix it. Then I can go sailing.”


What do you want to get out of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup?_
_I don’t really know, but I want to win. That’s pretty obvious. The regatta is portraying as this “stepping-stone” into the America’s Cup, and it’s not that easy. It’s a good step, but it’s only one step in a long series to get to where any professional sailor wants to be: whether that’s winning the America’s Cup, doing a Volvo or going to the Olympics. No one knows how to perceive this regatta because it’s never happened before, and I’ve sort of gone back and forth about it in my mind saying, “This is a huge deal,” and “This doesn’t mean anything.” And only time will tell, how it’s actually perceived. But, it being probably the most exciting thing to happen in this America’s Cup will hopefully help it become important in people’s minds.

What’s the first thought when you wake up each morning?
We joke around a lot, but we pull it together when it’s time to be serious. If we were sailing as paid professionals, it wouldn’t let us be who we are. I wake up and think, “Never again am I going to get a chance to sail a million-dollar boat with my six best friends, managing every aspect without an owner looking over our back.” To me, that’s what is unbelievable.

Check out AYSF’s office in Sam Greenfield’s latest video: