America’s Cup 2021: Olympian Steven Ferguson joins Team NZ's Cup defence

Former Olympic swimmer and kayaker Steven Ferguson is one of four new faces in the Team New Zealand line-up to defend the America's Cup in Auckland in 2021.

The 14-man squad is a mixture of both familiar and fresh faces, with Ferguson the most notable newcomer, having represented New Zealand as a swimmer at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, before jumping out of the pool and into the kayak for Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012. 

The 39-year-old, who was also a world surf lifesaving champion, impressed enough during testing to be awarded a grinder spot on one of the new foiling monohulls that will race on Waitemata Harbour.

The son of four-time Olympic kayak gold medallist Ian Ferguson had been searching for a way to satisfy his craving for a return to competition, when a chance encounter during some DIY got him thinking.

"My neighbour starting working with Team New Zealand," Ferguson told Newshub. "I was building a fence outside and chatting away with him, next minute it got on the topic of having a crack at this.

"I started to feel like I had still had something left in the tank and this has always been a dream of mine - as a young kid down in Devonport, with my red socks on, watching Peter Blake."

He admitted the selection process was even more physically demanding than he'd expected.

"You've just got to be 110% on the grind the whole time, there's no easy spots. You can't just rest or recover, you have to go hard.

It's extremely grueling, bloody hard mentally ... I'm learning how to push myself even further, which is quite a bit of fun. We're all frothing to get out on the water so right now it's just making sure we're ready for that."

The Aucklander joins Wairoa's Louis Sinclair, Whangarei's Marcus Hansen and Russell's Marius van der Pol as debutants.

Returning from the campaign in Bermuda three years ago will be Andy Maloney, Josh Junior, Joseph Sullivan, Carlo Huisman, Guy Endean and Simon van Velthooven.

The brains to that brawn remain, with Glenn Ashby, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Ray Davies providing the tactical nous.

Team NZ chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge believes they have struck the ideal balance between sailing talent and raw power.

"There wasn’t an easy road into this group for anyone in the sailing team," Shoebridge confessed.

"They all effectively had to prove themselves again and it has been really encouraging to see the hunger from the guys who were with us last time to return for the defence on home waters in New Zealand."

A change to America's Cup rules means the 'cyclors' who powered the previous America's Cup challenge with their legs have had to retrain their upper bodies as conventional grinders.