The America’s Cup sees the world’s fastest boats competing for the oldest trophy in international sports. The finals which took place in San Francisco this year saw one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. Getty Photographer Ezra Shaw was there to capture history…

A Futuristic Sail Boat Race

I got really excited when it was announced that the America’s Cup was coming to San Francisco. I don’t get the opportunity to photograph sailing that often, but whenever I do, I always enjoy it.

In traditional sailing races, there are always different color spinnakers sailing across the water and boats leaning on to their sides in the heavy winds. However, this was not going to be a traditional sailing race - it was going to be more of a futuristic sail boat race with boats that fly out of the water.

The boats used in this year’s America’s Cup were called an AC72. The boats were just over 72 feet long and more than 130 feet high.

Almost a Bust

The America’s Cup was almost a bust before it even began. One of the Oracle Team USA boats was severely damaged when it capsized last year. Then, Artemis Racing capsized in May of this year, which resulted in a total loss of their boat and the death of one of their sailors. Plus, fewer teams signed up for the Louis Vuitton Cup, the challenger series to find out who would race against Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup Finals. The lack of challengers was because of the extremely high cost of building the boats.

All of these problems resulted in fewer spectators in San Francisco and less interest all across the globe than was previously expected.

The Race is on

Then the America’s Cup Finals began between Oracle Team USA and the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand.

Emirates Team New Zealand dominated the start of the regatta. Each team needed to win a total of nine races to win the Cup, and New Zealand broke out to a 8-1 lead. Everyone thought the regatta was over.  Everyone except Oracle Team USA.

Oracle Team USA switched a few key members on their team and tinkered with their boat and slowly but surely, they began a comeback - winning one race on one day and then two on the next.

However, everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that Emirates Team New Zealand would surely win just one more race before the USA team could win eight. Everyone was wrong.

Oracle Team USA mounted one of the greatest comebacks in sport history and won eight races in a row to win the America’s Cup and defend their title.

Behind the coverage

Covering the America’s Cup Finals for Getty Images was a great assignment.

For the first half of the regatta, we had three staff photographers covering the event - myself, Justin Sullivan and Jamie Squire. Having three photographers covering the races gave us all various opportunities to shoot the races from different vantage points around San Francisco. This was also the first time that the America’s Cup was sailed so close to shore, and the natural amphitheater that the San Francisco Bay provided was amazing. 

The three of us rotated the first week between being on a boat, shooting from shore and photographing from a helicopter. It is always great when you have the opportunity to shoot from a helicopter - you are able to make pictures that have a much different perspective than when you are on land and with this type of boat it was really impressive to see them from the air.

After New Zealand went up 8-1, it was my responsibility to be the photographer on the boat for the final race. The America’s Cup supplied five different media boats for photographers that could hold between 4-8 people on each boat. Because the sailboats could go up to speeds of 50mph, the photo boats would stay in fixed positions on the course for the most part and wait for the sailboats to come to you and then move on to the next position after they sailed by.

I thought that I would be on the photo boat for maybe one or two more days. However, it soon turned into Groundhog Day. Day after day I would roll my large water proof camera case to the media center and then down onto the docks to board the media boat.
Each day all the photographers would look at each other and think this would be the last day. Photographers from Europe were rebooking their flights to get home early, and then they were rebooking their flights when the racing went four days longer than expected. In the end, it was amazing to see Oracle Team USA comeback from such a deficit.

I do not know enough about sailing to even guess what they were able to do when their backs were up against the wall and they had to win each of the last eight races. However, whatever changes they did make at that last minute, cemented them as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite images from the America’s Cup.

  • 179981088. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered Dean Barker in action against Oracle Team USA skippered James Spithill during race two of the America's Cup Finals on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won both of today's races. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 179981210. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered Dean Barker (R) and Oracle Team USA skippered James Spithill (L) in action during race one of the America's Cup Finals on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 179981415. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered Dean Barker (R) and Oracle Team USA skippered James Spithill (L) in action during race two of the America's Cup Finals on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 179983794. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered Dean Barker (R) and Oracle Team USA skippered James Spithill (L) in action during race one of the America's Cup Finals on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won both of today's races. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 180078640. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in action against Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker during race four of the America's Cup Finals on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won race three and Oracle Team USA won race four. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 180078975. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker sails to the start line for race four against Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in the the America&'s Cup Finals on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won race three and Oracle Team USA won race four. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 180417449. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Light refracts off fog creating a rainbow halo around a helicopter shadow while Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker races against Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in race six of the America's Cup Finals on September 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 18055467. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker almost capsizes while racing against Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill during race eight of the America's Cup Finals on September 14, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Oracle Team USA won the race. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 180651496. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill leads Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker at the start of race ten of the America's Cup Finalson September 15, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 181355329. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker races against Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill at the start of race 13 of the America's Cup Finals on September 20, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Race thirteen was initially abandoned due to the race exceeding time limits, Oracle Team USA won the restart race thirteen. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 181364860. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in action against Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker during race 13 of the America's Cup Finals on September 20, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Race 13 was initially abandoned due to the race exceeding the time limit. Oracle Team USA won the restart of race 13. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 181587439. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker warms up before racing againsts Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in race 14 of the America's Cup Finals on September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Oracle Team USA won both race 14 and 15 today. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker in action against Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill during race 14 of the America's Cup Finals on September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Oracle Team USA won both race 14 and 15 today. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 181590564. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill warms up before racing against Emirates Team New Zealand in race 14 of the America's Cup Finals on September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Oracle Team USA won both race 14 and 15 today. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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  • 181814154. SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Oracle Team USA skipper James Spithill celebrates with the America's Cup trophy after they beat Emirates Team New Zealand skippered by Dean Barker in race 19 to win the America's Cup Finals on September 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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About Ezra Shaw

Ezra Shaw has been working for Getty Images as a Staff Photographer for over 15 years. He began his career assisting many Sports Illustrated photographers both in London and New York City. After settling down in New York City, Shaw spent nearly ten years traveling the world with New York City as his base before relocating to Sydney, Australia in 2006 to experience what life “down under” had to offer. After spending nearly three years in Australia, Shaw relocated to Marin County in northern California.

His assignments have included both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games, the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, Tour de France, and numerous other events. His pictures have appeared in many publications around the world, and Shaw has won awards in the World Press Photo, NPPA Pictures of the Year, World Photography Awards, Pictures of the Year International, and the Sony World Photography Awards.

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