Let me rewind to a few weeks before. I sat gazing out the passenger window traveling slowly over the Macarthur Causeway in Miami. Glancing at the cruise ships and docked yachts, a thought came over me watching a sailboat breeze by. Why not write about a pro sailor? I’ve read articles about a lot of sports, but this would be unique. A good friend of mine, Stefan, son sails. I asked him if he knew any professional sailors I could interview. After a couple of weeks, he came back and said he knew of a pro I could speak with, who had recently won his fourth World Championship. When I talked to him, I then found out he was also a photographer, which piqued my interest further. The mindset and motivation of excellence, adding the capacity of a creative spirit is the makings of a great story — Luke Lawrence, accomplishing this before his 29th birthday is a great example.
I met with Luke a sunny morning in Coconut Grove at the Coral Reef Yacht Club, and he took me out for my first lesson. I am under the belief if you are going to learn something, try, and learn from one of the best. Luke Lawrence, has four World Titles, and four Rolex Yachtsman of the year nominations. He is very gregarious. He will wander off a sailboat and be invited up to the dock to a black-tie event at the yacht club, and join in the festivities in shorts and his Sperry’s. Why not? (true story) He can go with what the world brings, and I like that about him. (He also dresses up with notice). Being around a lot of yacht clubs globally, he has seen his fair share of it all, but his mind is on growth.
Now that he has returned to sailing, I asked him if he would be open to a new, significant corporation sponsoring him for a race in the future. He said he would. I asked him how he would do it, and he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Whatever it takes.” What he was silently saying was, I would enhance and demonstrate excellence any way I can. He didn’t say, “Look what I have done.” It was more like; You have not seen anything yet!
Growing up in Florida, Luke had spent his fair share of time on the water. For those of you hesitant to try sailing, Luke revealed to me his mother, who he refers to as his “Driving force” had signed him up for sailing camp one summer. His first time on a sailboat alone ended with him crashing onto a dock about twenty seconds into it. He didn’t get back in a sailboat alone until he was around eleven. Having more confidence at that age, he recalls sailing in his backyard with some of his friends on a sunfish. It is one of his happiest memories. He said it as the first time he felt, “Completely free.” He won his first race two years later.
Interestingly, he won three out of four of his World Championships on the same day, on his birthday. August 24, 2010, 2014, and 2016. They were three different classes and locations. When he won in San Fransisco, in 2010, he was the first American (and only to date) to win the Junior Silver Cup World Championship — beating out some sailors that have since won Olympic medals. He says the first win changed his life. His first World Title altered the plan. His second World title initiated a concept of an idea. His third earned him a “Lay up” and the fourth, he wrote the speech before he even showed up. Reminds me of a story I read once about a pro tennis player who once said when asked, “What do you think before a match?” He responded, “I look over at the other guy and say to myself, I wonder why you even showed up!” It’s that singleness of purposes to winning and internal dialogue that most elite athletes have in common, including Luke.
Not surprising at all, the win proved advantageous for Luke as a teenager. He realized young that he had to work hard, repeat the victories and the World could be his oyster and open up opportunities to him. He won three World Titles, and took some time off sailing, only to come back and win his last World Title this past February, in Key Biscayne. One of his private coaches claimed Luke was one of the most naturally talented sailors he had ever seen. Luke comes from a long line of sailors, (generations of ice sailors) it’s no doubt in the blood.
One thing being a pirate, ahem, a sailor has taught him was the disconnect. He learned at a young age, through sailing, that he had the capacity and ability to overcome challenges. At 19, after one semester in college, he spent 295 days on the water. I’m inclined, after spending time with him, to consider this time for him would be the equivalent of a chasmic sociology experience and clocked time in his sailing experience. Unaware where he would be one day to the next, or with whom. He learned how to be brave, gregarious, and how having a knack for accents can keep one safe in an unfamiliar situation abroad. He didn’t see his family. He focused on sailing. He was fixated to make a massive change in his life and committed himself wholeheartedly spending almost a year on the water. Being away, he saw enough real-world problems, and it taught him to let go of resentments and prioritize. This time ignited his real passion for racing.
One of my next questions to him was, “How do you give back? ” He asked me to come to the Coral Reef Yacht Club the following day, where they were hosting a sail lesson day for injured veterans with an organization called Team Paradise. Team Paradise Sailing delivers free sailing programs to individuals with disabilities, veterans, and under-resourced youth. www.teamparadise.org. I showed up the next morning for the event. It was an excellent turnout, and they had a brunch and then took them out on various boats for the afternoon. The veterans seemed to enjoy and appreciate the time people had taken to share with them a day out on the water earning something new.
Luke travels the world on a sailboat, challenging himself and generating creative photographic responses to powerful thought starters. I asked him when his enthusiasm for photography began. He one day noticed droplets of water on a sail mast. Within the drops, he saw the reflection of a storm that was coming. One of the pictures is a close up of just a drop of seawater revealing, like a crystal ball, the pending storm, within it. Every time I look at the picture, it reminds me of a quote from the poet Rumi, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” Most would likely wipe the water away. Luke seems aware of his surroundings wherever he is. This attention to everything gives him the ability to ascertain things; some of us would never detect. It can be another universe. Luke is fascinated by how his natural subject matter allows him to control the composition of his image. His photos are Mother Earth’s creations, devoid of people. More than a simple record of nature, through his lens, Luke, exposes a parallel universe and invites us to examine them anew. What makes his work unique is how he has made the seemingly invisible look so absolutely vivid, as if they had a secret life of their own that only he knows how to portray. Luke has the extraordinary ability to capture all the small details that make the difference and reveal all the stories that remain hidden behind the surface, conveying an almost deafening silence, as if time had stopped and humans had suddenly disappeared leaving nature to show it’s glory.
Being with Luke for a couple of days was refreshing. I enjoyed being on the water with him and his friends, who were from all different walks of life, but when they were on the boat, were a team. He taught me a few things: Take the time when you need it to reset, it’s ok. Get out on the water and defrag with people. Notice the details and something else that has stayed with me; I will share with you: If you happen to be on the water and see a boat with the fenders hanging off the side as it is moving, steer clear. They do not know what they are doing. You’re welcome.
Thank you to Luke, the Coral Reef Country Club, and all of the Team Paradise volunteers for the hospitality.