A family that sails together, stays together. At least until the kids grow up and head out. That’s the situation of the Sayre family — all four of them sailing champions at one time or another. There’s mom and pop, Stina and Nevin, big sis Solvig, and brother Rasmus, also known as Raz. They’re all still sailors, each at it in their own way.
Best to get a few things straight: There’s sailing, as in sailing. There’s windsurfing, which used to be seriously popular, but now less so. And then there’s kiteboarding, which seems to have taken the place of windsurfing in popularity. And lately kite hydrofoiling has entered the fray, technically a subset of kiteboarding. In competitive circles, they all come under the heading of — you guessed it — sailing.
Nevin calls sailing in a boat “seated sailing,” which strictly speaking isn’t accurate, but you get the idea. Raz added, “Windsurfing is a bit like standing on a surfboard, but the board has a mast, with a sail, and you are holding onto a horizontal boom, but you are not attached to anything. In kiteboarding, your feet are strapped to the board, sort of like on a snowboard. The kite is attached to a vest the surfer wears that has lines stretching out to the actual kite, so your feet are attached to the board and your torso to the kite.” Kite hydrofoiling allows the board to be above the water, with a pedestal-like pole reaching into the water, making for a more exciting ride, as there’s much less friction with the waves. For both kiting and hydrofoiling, there’s more hang time, completely above the water, with all kinds of astonishing up-in-the-air acrobatics possible.
Nevin continued, “Kiteboarding is definitely more dangerous.” The key to the danger factor is whether or not the surfer is attached to the equipment. When a windsurfer falls, the surfer and the equipment stop, or at least the surfer stops. With kiteboarding, the fallen surfer can be taken along for a ride they might not enjoy — a sort of Nantucket sleigh ride, Beach Boys–style.
“An advantage of kiteboarding is that you can have more high performance in less wind than with windsurfing. In other words, you need more wind for an expert to be challenged in windsurfing. So that means we get more days with high-performance kiteboarding,” Nevin said.
Aside from bigger, faster thrills, Raz believes kiteboarding has become popular because “kiteboards are inflatable, and are about half the size of windsurfing equipment. You can pack the entire kite into a backpack.”
Which is an amusing concept, as Stina felt the same way about windsurfing when she started a generation earlier, “Windsurfing started in 1974. When it was new,” she explained, “it was great. You didn’t need a boat, or a mooring, or beach access. For a relatively small amount of money, you could buy a board, strap it to the top of a car, and go.”
And go is what the Sayres do. Solvig is working professionally as a sailing director at a yacht club in Houston, sailing in Galveston Bay, where her job description includes “pretty much any- and everything related to sailing,” she said.
Five years out of Eckerd College, where she competed in windsurfing, Solvig spent years traveling the world competing in amateur events, making it as far as U.S. Olympic alternate for the 2012 London Games. “It was different from when my parents were competing, as they were on the pro tour, and windsurfing was a big deal,” Solvig said.
“In its heyday, you’d see [windsurfing] on ESPN, with 100,000 spectators at events in Europe and Japan,” Nevin added.
Both Solvig and Raz, Island-grown, speak fondly of learning how to sail. The family house is right on the water near the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, where the two kids, as well as Nevin, who was a summer kid, grew up sailing. Stina and Nevin started the kids early — toddler early.
Raz, who started at 22 months, never felt pressure to compete. He’s a member of Eckerd’s sailing team and majoring in political science, with a minor in international relations. “I’m thinking I may want to do something drastically different after graduation,” he said. “Maybe the Peace Corps.” Raz also has competition cred. He was the 2014 Kona One World Windsurfing Champion, placing first over 107 other contestants from 13 countries. Nevin placed third in the same competition, and Solvig 11th. “My parents are awesome,” Raz said, “We are really lucky in the parent department.”
Nevin raced in the pro world tour from 1983 to 1991, making a handsome living through prize money and sponsorships. As is only fitting, he was the five-time U.S. champion and two-time second-ranked windsurfer in the world. These days, he’s the North American distributor for the O’pen BIC, a singlehanded sailboat which is great for kids. Nevin believes this boat will keep more kids sailing, as it allows for more varied, fun experiences, especially when compared with the older, less agile boats typically used to teach kids how to sail.
I was determined not to try for a fake connection between Stina’s windsurfing career and her fashion design business. It turns out there is one. Stina owns Vineyard Haven’s eponymous fashion store, Stina Sayre, which showcases her imaginative, Scandinavian design, sleek, spare, and elegant. Oscar-winning actresses, opera singers, prizewinning authors, rock stars, and many of the chic gals about town patronize the shop.
Growing up in Sweden, Stina worked in the family’s clothing store, which is where her interest in fashion was born. She started windsurfing in her late teens, eventually holding the title of Swedish windsurfing champion for six years. She came to the board having learned to sail, dance, skate, and ski, naturally incorporating many of the core skills she already processed. Stina said, “We were the pioneers, the blind leading the blind. It was a really sweet time, as the sport and equipment developed. There were regattas every weekend with hundreds of spectators. Windsurfing is addictive, because you can never really master it, as the elements become a partner in the ride.”
Stina and Nevin first met at a competition in 1983 in Barbados, and traveled the world together, with Stina eventually winding down her career. Before Solvig’s birth in 1991, Stina had plenty of time on her hands. She bought a knitting machine, started making sweaters, and selling them to the guys on the pro tour. She called them “guilt sweaters,” as most of the guys had wives and girlfriends back home.
These days her design is inspired by nature. “In my work,” says Stina, “I can never quite match how beautiful nature is, but it certainly inspires.”
“All our boats are boards,” she continued. “But I don’t windsurf much these days. You’re more likely to see me on a paddleboard.” The definition of which you can figure out for yourself.