What do a MotoGP motorbike, which easily exceeds 300 km/h on a racetrack, and a 25-meter single-mast boat taking part to the America’s Cup have in common? Besides being at the top of technologic evolution in their field, requiring preparation and unusual skills, inspiring millions of enthusiasts since forever… apparently nothing. Yet touchpoints are many more than what you can imagine: for example, falling into the water at 40 knots (about 80 km/h) is like falling on the tarmac and it can cause the same damage as a highside on the track.
In 2016, Dainese headquarters got a phone call. It was Max Sirena, Technical Advisor at Emirates Team New Zealand and former Luna Rossa skipper. Max is passionate about motorbikes and knows the Speed Demon very well. He knows that in Vicenza there is somebody that can help him and his guys in protecting themselves.
A new need to push limits
The synergy was born naturally. After all, this is not the first time that Dainese brings protection in a new sport. Here, in sailing, nobody or almost no one has ever felt the need to move in this direction. Although, relying on more and more performing boats, speed increases. And risks together with it. Once again, for this sport to evolve, it is necessary to provide technical support, not only to these means that defy the laws of physics, but also to athletes.
The wealth of technology and experience acquired since the ‘70s is important, yet the approach is fundamental. You can start from something you already have and develop it for the protection needs expressed by a team of sailors. Dainese and Emirates Team New Zealand study all the solutions adopted by ski and bike athletes, looking for anything that can be a solid starting point. To be developed according to the specific needs of athletes at sea.
Soft protectors seem to be the best choice because of their flexibility, weight and compact size. Rhyolite Safety Jacket, a downhill protective vest, is the perfect product to start from. Light, ergonomic and able not to limit gestures. Some samples are directly shipped to New Zealand and immediately tested to understand what can be optimized.
New product challenges
If impact protection is one of the aspects Dainese has always been working on, the first challenge is floatation. This is a key aspect for a racing boat’s crew, clearly not for a biker. Emirates Team New Zealand and the Dainese R&D department in Italy work as a team, coming up with a solution that sees the application of floating pads on the inside of the back protector and on the chest.
After this modification, the greatest issue is to obtain optimal fit and freedom of movement. The development of a performing protector is quite easy; developing one that is safe, light and comfortable requires studies and a much more advanced use of technologies. Only the achievement of these objectives makes it possible to equip best and most-demanding athletes in the world with your products. The new vests for the team are tailor- and handmade, to provide customized and specific support to each athlete. This is how Sea-Guard was born, the first protective vest developed for America’s Cup athletes.
The first version of Sea-Guard features a protective hump on the back, a technological solution inspired by MotoGP suits. In this case, main characteristics are aerodynamic performance and floatation. Moreover, inside the hump, a space is made to host the communication system or an oxygen tank. After several tests in racing conditions, later versions are adjusted, choosing a different solution.
The hump is substituted by a hydration bag, that enables the athlete to drink without taking a break, maintaining concentration and physical efficiency at its best. It is however fundamental for the crew to have an oxygen tank and an intercom to communicate with teammates and the racing director, together with a knife to cut ropes and nets in case of emergency. After removing the hump, specific pockets for each of these accessories have been created, choosing the best positioning to make them easily accessible, while not compromising freedom of movement.
It is like this, equipped with the Dainese Sea-Guard, that Emirates Team New Zealand shows up at the America’s Cup finals against Oracle Team USA and wins. A story of vision, of a worldwide excellence that first understood this rising need in an evolving sport.
Motorcycling and sailing are not so far away, in the end.