Ingenuity, as easy as riding a bike

Why power a boat with your arms when you’ve got thighs of thunder? That was the idea behind the revolutionary innovation that took Emirates Team New Zealand to victory in 2017. If you want to meet a bunch of forward-thinkers, we know a place.

The America’s Cup has been attracting big countries with even bigger budgets since 1851. Until Emirates Team New Zealand turned up, that is. They didn’t have big money - just big ideas. And their innovations took the world by storm.

Until 1983, the America’s Cup was dominated by, you guessed it, America. For 150 years, the world’s oldest sporting trophy was determined by the sheer scale of technology and cash thrown at it. While New Zealand had the people and the skills, we were lacking in the wallet department. But for Kiwis, that doesn’t pose a problem so much as a challenge.



With backing from two merchant bankers, New Zealand made its debut on the international sailing scene in 1987, with a yacht controversially built of fiberglass. The boat went on to perform extremely well, ruffling a few feathers and re-shaping the America’s Cup.

Having set out on a great course, Team New Zealand became a household name in 1995 as the Black Magic brought the America’s Cup home for the very first time, with our iconic silver fern emblazoned on its side. Then in 2000, millions of eyes were trained on the Auckland waterfront as we hosted, and won, the cup for the second time.


In 2017 though, Emirates Team New Zealand took sailing innovation to the next level, with the best kept secret in the Cup’s history. After a long period of thought, research and development, they came up with an idea that had legs. Muscly ones.

Yes, the team decided to pedal their way through the water - and the switch from arm-power to leg-power proved to be a stroke of genius. Pedalling the grinders produced all the power needed to raise and lower the foils, pull the huge wingsail, and keep the boat flying - and then some.


The innovation didn’t stop there though. The “cyclors” of Emirates Team New Zealand needed to put their creation into action. To help with that, the team secretly brought on board Olympic cyclist Simon Van Velthooven to pass on his Olympic standard cycling knowledge, assist in the pedalling programme and eventually become one of the infamous cyclors onboard the AC50.

Alongside that, the Kiwis invested heavily in digital technology. Thousands of hours were spent sailing the boat virtually on a computer screen without touching the water. Helmsman Peter Burling used an actual steering wheel, whilst skipper Glenn Ashby moved the wing with an X-box controller. Yes, an X-box controller. Whatever crazy techniques were used, they were winners. As the team sailed to victory at Bermuda, at home the crowd went wild. And as it turns out, big ideas really can trump billions.

If you want to see how Kiwi ingenuity can take on the world, we know a place.