By Kainoa Carlson
HNN Sports Department
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Volvo Ocean Race has been called the Super Bowl of racing. It's a grueling 45,000-mile, nine month sailing competition that takes competitors around the world.
The race only happens once every three years, and a Kahaluu native is the co-founder of the only American team entered in this year's event.
Mark Towill, who's racing with the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team, says his love of sailing began in Hawaii years ago.
"I grew up sailing in Kaneohe Bay as a young child," said Towill. "This is really where my passion for the ocean began."
2017 will be Towill's second time sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race. Three years ago, he co-founded and started a different team, called Alvimedica, which featured the youngest crew in the competition.
They managed to finish in fourth place, while missing third by a single point.
"You know, in the last race we were dubbed the 'young team,' or kind of the 'kids boat', and this time we are in it to win it," said Towill.
On October 22nd, eight boats will depart the city of Alicante, Spain. They will sail 11 legs around the world, stopping to port in 13 different countries while traversing every ocean on the planet. A higher finish helps with more sponsorship opportunities from investors, but sailing around the globe has helped crews realize there's more important issues than the standings when it's over.
"As I sailed around the world, I was exposed to some of the most polluted places I had ever seen," said Towill. "There is so much marine debris."
That realization inspired Towill to take action.
To spread awareness about ocean pollution, he partnered with 11th Hour Racing, a non-profit organization that uses the sport of sailing to promote sustainability and overall ocean health. He also partnered with Vestas, a Danish company that is the world's leading producer of wind turbines.
Before long, his partners in fighting ocean pollution, and promoting sustainability, also became the title sponsors for his team in this year's Volvo Ocean Race.
"Coming from Hawaii and having such a strong connection with the ocean, to be able to use the Volvo Ocean Race as a platform to bring awareness to these issues globally is a real treat," said Towill.
The race ends in the Netherlands in June 2017.