As a professional underwater photographer and scuba diving instructor for more than 20 years it is obvious that I like water very much. Therefore, photoshooting the Red Bull Extreme Sailing series is interesting to me not only because it includes water but also speed, wind and great people. Emotions, energy, water drops and fantastic atmosphere are guaranteed part of every sailing race. I was also more than happy to work again with global heroes in competitive ocean sailing – Hagara and Steinacher from Red Bull Extreme Sailing team.
At Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, Russia the racecourse of 800 x 300 metres in size awaits the competitors. Set on the Neva River in the centre of St Petersburg, the narrow stadium race track is surrounded by beautiful iconic buildings. The river presents the sailors with 2knots of current and very shifty wind conditions. When the wind funnels down the river from the west it can blow really hard.
Considered by many as one of the world’s most picturesque cities, Saint Petersburg has all the ingredients for an unforgettable experience: art, lavish architecture, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions; but also a modern bohemian side including edgy art galleries and delectable dining. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Group of Monuments is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
HOW DID A WINDSURFER AND A SKIER FROM LANDLOCKED AUSTRIA BECOME GLOBAL HEROES IN COMPETITIVE OCEAN SAILING?
Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher are Austria’s most successful summer sport athletes, having won just about everything there is to win on the sea, including two Olympic gold medals and numerous world and European championships. They have twice been voted their country’s athlete of the year (usually the domain of skiers) and are the only Austrians to have competed in the prestigious America’s Cup circuit. Today, their names are recognized worldwide. Yet while their achievements are already mythic, their goals are bigger than ever. The Austrian pair are determined to see sailing progress to the next level. As leaders of the Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team and sports directors of Red Bull Foiling Generation and the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, they’re grooming the next generation of sailors to take it there.
Hagara and Steinacher’s innovative approach to sailing started with experience in two other sports that have everything to do with speed. Born in Vienna, Hagara came to watersports as a windsurfer. On the other hand, Steinacher, being raised in the mountains, pursued an even more unlikely sport – ski racing.
Initially they competed against each other, with Steinacher helming a Tornado catamaran and Hagara crewing for his brother on another Tornado before skippering his own boat. It was in 1997 that Hagara dropped by the home of Steinacher, who had just retired from sailing, to say hello. On his way out, Hagara mentioned that he was looking for a new crew member to aim for the 2000 Olympics, and he was flabbergasted when Steinacher replied, “Why not? Let’s do it!”
By the end of that initial year they’d won their first European championship together, one of a boatload of national, European and world honors that now crowd their shelves.
By the 2004 Olympics in Athens, other teams had caught on and were customizing their sails too, but the Austrians still managed to claim the top step of the podium.
When it comes to summer sport athletes, Hagara and Steinacher are Austria’s most famous export, with a high profile internationally. To fans, they’re the face not only of sailing at the highest level, but also of the world-class brands that support it. In all, more than 15 international companies are currently partnering with Hagara and Steinacher to drive excellence in sailing.
Where many teams would retire after earning Olympic gold, Hagara and Steinacher were just getting started. Hagara sets the standard when it comes to helming a boat and Steinacher is a master tactician. Since 2009 they’ve concentrated on the big boat scene, including one of the highlights of their career, competing on an America’s Cup yacht, the pinnacle of sailboat racing since 1851.
Today, they mentor young sailors in three series: as sports directors of Red Bull Foiling Generation and the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, and as leaders of the Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team that competes in the Extreme Sailing Series.
Hagara and Steinacher also mastermind the next step in the progression toward America’s Cup racing, the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup. First held in 2013, the series was an immediate hit, with six-sailor teams aged 19–25 delivering highly competitive racing on 45-foot boats – longer than a city bus. Not only will the series be back in 2017, but its success stories already include victorious skipper Peter Burling, who now helms Team New Zealand as they prepare for their next America’s Cup campaign.
Austrian Red Bull Sailing Team is currently second in 2015 overall standings to The Wave, Muscat from Oman.