Latest News

Above Board with a Local Champion

Above Board with a Local Champion

He started sailing at the age of six, and competed at the age of 10 in a small dinghy called a Sabot. Mathew Belcher OAM, raised and born on the Gold Coast, shares his personal thoughts and experiences on sailing and competing in world championships. Despite being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, a sailing champion in the London Olympics in 2012, and consistently winning in many other international competitions, he remains a humble Gold Coaster and tells us why everyone should learn to sail on the Gold Coast.

Olympics Day 14 - Sailing - Men's 470

What motivated you to learn how to sail, and what motivated you to keep competing?

My parents were keen boaties, and would regularly head out on the Broadwater each weekend. They used to tow my dinghy behind the cruiser and that kept me occupied each weekend. I really liked the freedom and control of being in charge of a boat. I enjoy the challenge and diversity of our sport. There is always something to learn and improve on, no matter who you are or what you have achieved. Our sport is never the same each day so it is never boring.


What type of sailing boats have you competed in?

I have mainly competed in two-person dinghies throughout my career. I have always enjoyed having other people in the boat with me. The classes vary considerably, now that I am moving into the professional circuits, Int 420, Olympic 470s, Int Moths, Farr 40s , Melges 20, J70s, SB20, AC45 (Team Australia).


What made you decide to compete in your current sailing category?

I was drawn to the boat (470) mainly for its technical aspects and diversity of skill sets that are required to do well. Australia has a great 470 program and had a lot of success within the class over the years, not to mention one of the best coach in the world, Victor Kovalenko. The class is slow enough to allow great strategic and tactical decision-making, while technical enough to reward in-depth knowledge.

Mat Blecher Winner

Where do you usually train when you are not competing?

Unfortunately for us, with our recent competition schedules, we just train mainly at competition venues. We have tried to schedule training either on the Gold Coast or in Sydney to minimise the traveling as much as possible while in Australia. With key events identified at the beginning of the year, our training is scheduled to ensure we are ready when we need to be—usually a mix of technical, tactical and physical components each day on the water.


How is your partnership with co-champion, Will Ryan?

Will has been great to sail with, we are still relatively a new team. He was heavily involved in my London 2012 campaign as reserve crew for London and our training partner. We regularly trained and sometimes competed in world cup events (Hyeres 2010) together. It was a natural progression to sail with Will. What we did not expect was to come together so quickly. This has really helped our preparations towards Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. It has enabled us to develop ourselves and our partnership further than we expected.

Mat Blecher Australian Flag

What preparations are you doing for the Olympics in 2016?

We are preparing in a lot of ways. We have a great 470 team, amazing coach, and strong support to help guide us in the right direction. However, most of our preparations involve us traveling to competitions and spending large amounts of time away from home.


What type of boat do you have for your personal sailing?

I have an International Moth (a fast sailing hydrofoil dinghy) that I use for personal sailing. It is an extremely technical and highly complicated boat. And it is fast! It is an amazing boat to just enjoy the future of our sport. I am always smiling when I am sailing it.


Mat Blecher Action

Is the Gold Coast a good place to learn sailing?

I really enjoy sailing off Southport Yacht Club on the Gold Coast. There is a great diversity in conditions to an easily accessibly off-shore sailing, while offering flat inshore conditions with current. It has been good for us in our preparations towards Rio 2016. Did I mention it is also where I live? This is probably the most important part!


Do you think everyone on the Gold Coast should learn how to sail?

Absolutely! Why not? It is an amazing sport and extremely accessible through many great facilities. The Gold Coast is a great place to sail as it is well protected inside on the Broadwater, which makes learning easy, safe and fun. The programs at Southport Yacht Club make it very easy to learn.

2012 Olympic sailing Events, Weymouth, England

What changes have you seen over the years on the Gold Coast?

There has been a big shift, particularly in recent years, with regard to participation in our sport. After the results in London Olympics 2012, and an awareness of the America’s Cup in 2013 (foiling boat), the sport is growing at a rapid rate. The Gold Coast is also starting to produce many top sailors making it onto the national sailing team, such as Joel Turner (49er class), and Shane Smith (National women’s 49er FX coach).


You have sailed all over the world, and have seen so many seas and oceans of the world. How would you rate the Gold Coast waters for sailing competitions?

It is probably too hard to compare and rank all the places we have sailed, but there is never a better place than home. So I would say the Gold Coast is very high on my list. One thing the Gold Coast has, is an interesting experience coming in and out of the Seaway on our small 4.7m dinghies.


ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards 2013

How does the sailing community help in ensuring that waters are safe and clean?

The sailing community is very strong and supportive. If we or any other boatie see anyone in trouble, there is never a shortage of people coming in to help. We all respect the ocean and hope to keep it clean for the future generations to come. Personally, one area I can definitely do more is in raising awareness. We all need to do our part to protect the ocean and what we love about it. It is obvious there are continued changes to our weather from around the world, which is having devastating effects on our population and the oceans’ marine life. You would be hard-pressed to say climate change is not a factor in this.


What “soft skills” can one learn from sailing?

To learn to lead, to be independent, and most importantly, to trust in yourself and follow your dreams.



Interview conducted by Roselle Tenefrancia

Photos supplied by Mat Belcher


Related People Articles

Similar Posts From People Category